Reviewed by Andy Wilding
Conductor: Conrad van Alphen
Soloist: Nikita Boriso-Glebsky
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 5 May 2016
Mozart – Symphony no. 38 “Prague”
An evening billed as “Perfect Prague” prompted the thought that music not only transcends time, but also space. It was easy to believe that our Cape Town Concert Hall, right at the end of Africa’s cul-de-sac, was somehow in the same place as those halls in which Mozart stood. Van Alphen began with a stately, lofty adagio, to parallel the finest performances of this work, refreshing into an allegro which quickened the pulse and hit all the right spots. I was reminded how great conductors allow a skilled orchestra to play as a chamber group, and encourage them to listen to each other for timing. This must be very liberating – the conductor is then free to indicate interpretation and expression, instead of being weighed down by the mechanical task of time-keeping. I was so impressed by his minimal style that showed the CTPO as world class orchestra, that I thought the first movement deserved applause, however inappropriate.
Vieuxtemps – Violin Concerto no. 4
Seeing Nikita Boriso-Glebsky performing this work, the first thing that comes across is his amazing sensitivity – his opening note appears like a mirage from another dimension. Then follows his profound demonstration of technique that enables an articulate, emotionally intuitive interpretation. A hidden jewel in the violin repertoire, the concerto was spectacularly presented in velvety romantic serenades and sparkling precision-cut facets. With seamlessly flowing bow technique and exceptional speed, Boriso-Glebsky trails a string of the highest international awards available. However, his full-house standing ovation was earned through nothing less than a spectacular performance and fluid synergy with the CTPO under conductor van Alphen. The ensemble in the second movement with the celli was sublime, and the scherzo-trio was blistering – twice! Belgian virtuoso Vieuxtemps repeats the belief-defying first section, as if to tempt fate and prove that it wasnt fluke the first time! And proof we certainly had! It seems that the lesson in impossibility was indeed repeatable.
And it continued with an encore by Vieuxtemps’ student: Ysaÿe Violin Sonata no. 2, 4th movement – “Furies”. But fury we had not, just wide eyes, stunned clapping, and modest attempts at comprehension. This night will be remembered!
Dvořák – Symphony no. 7
Dark winds and strings opened majestically and forebodingly, in what many people told me afterwards is their favourite Dvořák symphony. Van Alphen’s alert energy and awareness was in-suppressible, achieving a masterful blend of syncopation between parts. This was notable in the ecstatic burst of the major theme at the end of the first movement – well done horns and violins! Listening to a performance like this, I could sit back and enjoy world class solos by the CTPO principles, Gabriele von Dürckheim flute, Daniel Prozersky clarinet, and Sergei Burdukov oboe. Van Alphen demonstrated the answer to a fundamental question – What really is conducting? What’s it for? Everything is written in the music, accelerandi, diminuendi, fortissimo, piano, why a conductor? With only minimal tempo indication, his movements for the most part convey his interpretation of nuance, flavour, texture, subtle changes of crispness or sweetness that could never be included in a score. Although the composer has long left this world, I found this performance fresh and original, and very much alive.
Next week the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra returns with pianist Melvyn Tan conducted by Arjan Tien:
Puccini – Capriccio Sinfonico
Mendelssohn – Piano concerto no.1
Brahms – Symphony no.2
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