Reviewed by Andy Wilding
Conductor: Arjan Tien
Soloist: Bryan Wallick
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 19 May 2016
Britten – Passacaglia from Peter Grimes
Tien’s second performance with the CTPO this season reaffirmed his style as easy to follow with clear tempo. At times his movements are minimal, which is a great compliment to the orchestra as it implies that they listen to each other for timing. This minimalism also frees up the conductor to express the nuances and dynamics of his interpretation, to which the CTPO were highly responsive. A dark Victorian scene emerged, featuring Paula Gabriel’s sonorous melancholy viola, and haunting celeste by Joanna Majksner-Pinska, peppered with precise percussion.
Prokofiev – Piano Concerto no.2
There is an understated kind of charm about this concerto. Beginning rather ordinarily, the work is embalmed with Prokovief’s unmistakable mystical logic. We find ourselves in the most unexpected places as if by magic, and somehow arrive back in the tonic. Wallick’s interpretation of this musical sorcery was Renoiresque – a hazy impression that on closer inspection reveals articulate precision. His playing was relaxed, contemplative, and very clean, portraying a healthy blend of confidence and intuitive accuracy. His fingers have a way of finding the right notes. As enchanting as the first movement is, the cadenza does rather stand out as the reason why any fiery pianist would perform the work. Growing in layers, the developments on the first subject become progressively intense, each new layer seeming to be the ultimate hight of extremism, only to reveal another even higher pinnacle. Time suspended as Wallick’s left hand plucked melody out from between the dangerous moving parts of his right hand arpeggios. With increasing conviction, it dawned on the audience that we were in the presence of a remarkable pianist, who plays like a Tai Chi master – organic and fluid, surging and ebbing, gathering and centering, accurate and intense.
The third movement Intermezzo was phenomenal – a magical macabre slow scary march from the CTPO, great interpretation by Maestro Tien.
Mendelssohn – Symphony no. 3 “Scottish”
In the first half, Tien positioned the orchestra in the same way as the previous week, where the cellos and second violins swapped places so that the second violins were on his right. The double basses were placed on his left, behind the first violins. This of course changes the stereo effect completely and I enjoyed this very much, since the violin parts are panned left and right. Having the double-basses on the left, moves the bass into stereo, as opposed to being panned right. After interval, however, the four double-basses were balanced two on each side, as there is no bass brass in the symphony. Talking to two of the double-bassists afterwards confirmed my suspicion, that separating the section would present a challenge for them to stay together, but their timing in the performance was unaffected. The stereo effect was glorious – surround-sound double-bass!
Some would deny much of a difference to the sound on the grounds that, in a concert hall such as this, the sound from the stage bounces off all the surfaces, and by the time it gets to our ears, it’s all mashed up. It certainly is true that sound is shaped by the room, and reaches our ears from many different directions. Was there really any difference? Was my visual perception influencing my auditory perception? From my seat in the back row of the balcony, I conducted an experimented. I closed my eyes and listened, I heard violins playing on my left, opened my eyes and saw the first violins playing, and the second violins resting. The stereo effect is amazing. In the adagio, Mendelssohn’s theme was sublimely bowed by first violins on the left, with pizzicato accompaniment by seconds on the right, like a panorama photograph. Exceptional solos by Daniel Prozesky clarinet and Simon Ball bassoon.
The CTPO returns next season – Winter is coming.
Maestros Bernhard Gueller and Peter Martens
Shaun Crawford Overture
Dvořák Cello Concerto
Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 5.
Crawford is UCT, hear some of his work here.
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