Reviewed by Andy Wilding
Conductor: Omri Hadari
Soloist: Nettle and Markham
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 10 November 2016
Mendelssohn Ruy Blas Overture, op. 95
Mendelssohn Double Piano Concerto in E
Shostakovich Symphony no. 5 in D minor, op.47
This concert honored Maestro David Tidboald, congratulating him on his 90th birthday. Tidboald’s contribution to the industry in terms of infrastructure is unparalleled. He established and conducted the KZN Philharmonic and the CAPAB and NAPAC orchestras. He also founded two major youth music festivals that provide vital performing experience to young instrumentalists, and prepares them for orchestra playing. With celebrations for Ruth Allen’s 90th the previous week at the Gala Concert (and again the following week on the 17th, which was her actual birthday) members of the city’s classical musical community experienced a trans-cultural custom as old as stone: honoring its elders. Our modern lives are so unrecognizable from their roots in pre-industrialised, pre-nuclear, tribal, socialist civilisation, that moments like these of gratitude for our tribal elders are strangely reassuring: In the throes of global madness, we are maintaining our humanity.
The overture revealed Hadari’s clear time-keeping and demanding expectation from the CTPO to play at the standard of the best orchestras in the world, to which his conducting style is accustomed. The result was a virtuosic performance with exceptional work from the strings. His outstanding control of dynamics was immediately discernible, always keeping us on our toes, and always assuring enough potential energy for climaxes to explode wonderfully.
The concerto (MWV 5) performed by Nettle and Markham has a tremendous history, beautifully told by David Nettle in the program. Mendelssohn composed it in 1823 aged 14, but revised it later on. The concerto remained in a state of flux until his early death and was not published, hence it does not have an opus number, but a Mendelssohn-Werkverzeichnis number or MWV, German for Mendelssohn Work Index. The MWV was established because the composer did not keep up with his admin – He cataloged only 72 works with opus numbers, and then died, leaving 121 works to be added posthumously. Several versions of the concerto exist, in various states of development, and in all the confusion Nettle and Markham found it best to create their own edition, favoring the original 1823 version.
Their edition is scintillating, playful, and wise – all our favorite reasons to listen to Mendelssohn. As entertaining to see as it was to hear, watching the runs and witty exchanges was simply delightful. Nettle and Markham are extremely well matched, sharing a flawless technique and shapely sense of phrase. Repetitions are never the same, but explore a different interpretation of line, changing the meaning of the sentence even though the words are the same. The exciting acellerando into the coda of the first movement had everyone on the edge of their seats. The CTPO was outstanding – lively soft lyrical violins and a horn entry in the Adagio that was dolce de leche.
Shostakovich 5th is a treat for the romantic music lover, an explicit emotional expression of sarcastic submission and yearning for freedom under tyrannical rule. Hadari’s dynamism is ideally suited to such dramatic works as this. Many people experience great romantic works as a journey in the imagination, where the music tells the story. Hadari’s mastery articulates the subtleties of his interpretation, like the terrifying power of Stalinist Russia: a dread march that develops a splinter motive of resistance and hope from the trumpets. This leads to a cacophonic anticlimax, like the momentary appearance of the cold sun on a freezing Siberian evening. After the trumpets had stated their protest, Hadari’s Stalin marched on without so much as blinking. Political propaganda swallowed that trumpet’s protest, as if it had never happened.
The show stealer for me was concertmaster Patrick Goodwin’s awkwardly pretty solo in the midst of a macabre, military ball, a paradox beautifully illustrated by Hadari’s skill. The CTPO painted these musical pictures in world class standards. String technique was astounding, annunciating a perfectly synchronous pianonissimo pizzicato, with accellerando! Stunning ensemble playing from winds, bassoons expertly handing the oddly high register. Beautiful solos by Gabriele von Durckheim flute, Daniel Prozesky clarinet, and Caroline Prozesky horne. As the first movement drew to a close, the melody seamlessly passed from flute (von Durckheim) to picolo (Bridget Wilson) to violin (Patrick Goodwin) – an outstanding moment of magic.
Hadari’s demands on the orchestra are relentless, continuously sculpting the balance and tempo, and insisting on absolute precision. The results that he produces are spectacular and remind us why we attend classical concerts. Pressure makes diamonds – If sound is anything to go by, playing under Hadari is extremely good for the CTPO!