Joanna MacGregor Arjan Tien CTPO – Prokofiev Shostakovich Stravinsky #ClassicalConcertReview

Joanna MacGregor Arjan Tien CTPO – Prokofiev Shostakovich Stravinsky #ClassicalConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Arjan Tien
Soloist: Joanna MacGregor
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 2 February 2017

PROKOFIEV LIEUTENANT KIJÉ SUITE – SHOSTAKOVICH PIANO CONCERTO NO.2 IN F – STRAVINSKY THE FIREBIRD

Pressure makes diamonds – or rubble, depending on the conditions. After a busy holiday season, the CTPO Express barrelled headlong into rehearsals for Rigoletto and a gruelling schedule of four symphony concert programs in the space of two weeks! Pressure indeed, but such is the pace of international orchestras. Perhaps CTPO management upped the pressure to ensure that our orchestra hardens, to attract international recognition as the glimmering diamond in the centre of the city. The marketing technology is already here, we just have to plug it in. Imagine using the rising tide of internet publicity to carry words and videos of CTPO performances to booking offices across the world. Cruz ships arriving in the harbour could provide organised tours to symphony concerts, ballets, operas, and recitals around Cape Town. Conductor Arjan Tien seems to provide the right conditions for diamonds to form under the pressure of this international dream. Last Thursday was an evening of un-square timing that required the steady hand of an experienced conductor to hold the orchestra on course.

Opening the Lieutenant Kijé suite, the off-stage trumpet of David Thompson interrupted the last few words of conversation in the audience, creating a delightful moment of wondering whether there was some kind of parade going on outside. Maestro Tien must have known all too well that he was catching the audience by surprise, in one of many ways that he has of creating an exciting performance of well known works. As the audience grappled with “have we started?”, trumpet was joined by feather-light snare drum and soft accurate piccolo, flute, and brass – an impressive demonstration of military precision and excellent control of the pianissimo dynamic. Three or four YouTube clips of comparative listening will reveal that few other orchestras manage such a soft touch to Prokofiev’s opening, which clearly portrays an army approaching from the barely audible distance. The suite is rich in solo performances such as the gorgeous melody of the Romance, with Christian de Haan on double bass, to the soft accompaniment of violas.

Shostakovich’s second piano concerto of 1957 is uncharacteristically accessible to the Romantic ear. Like Bartók’s third piano concerto 12 years earlier, it has the feeling of a work written by a mind that has travelled far beyond the cloistered walls of Classical counterpoint and Romantic harmony, searching for a more accurate expression of life’s suffering, tyrannical dictators, and massacres. In contrast with the chaos of both composers’ predominant “Modern” style, where the listener is sucked down into the abyss, the melodies in these two concerti convey an eerie sense of knowing true madness without actually going into it. There is compassion, as the safety of the harmony and tonal structures which the listener understands is respected, albeit using 12 instead of 8 notes. Psychologically this may represent the transcendence of trauma, letting go and moving on – both composers having survived the second world war. Of course a trauma like this leaves a scar, and there is an other-worldly, alien feeling to the melodies in these works. Shostakovich 2 is among my favourite concerti because I can understand and follow it, but it sounds like nothing else on earth.

MacGregor immersed herself in these bewitching, mind altering, pointy melodies, letting her fingers follow their training with astonishing accuracy. She is an outstanding performer and her love for the work infused the orchestra, her attention acutely focussed on synchronism, which is a big challenge in this work. Shostakovich gives us recognisable melody, but in exchange he takes away our concept of four beats in a bar – square timing. Conductor, soloist, and orchestra are tested to their limits, but the results last Thursday were phenomenal. The final movement features one of my favourite un-square timings, 7 quavers. Here MacGregor revealed a glimpse of her encore to come, seeming as comfortable accompanied by Senegalese congas, singers, and brass as a full symphony orchestra. She has in fact performed with Moses Mololequa on her previous visit to the City Hall. A classical musician who also plays jazz (to put it simply) has a noticeable connection via eye contact with the other instrumentalists, and this was visible in MacGregor’s Shostakovich, her eyes often on the orchestra, barely looking at her hands. Her dynamic range is wonderful, from the intense ecstatic accuracy of the outer movements to the sensitive tenderness of the Andante.

And then she played an encore.

In two works by Astor Piazzolla, Milonga del Angel and Libertango, MacGregor’s delivery was of Lisztian proportions. Arranging Latin music for piano must already be regarded as Lisztian in that Tango is played by at least three instrumentalists not counting piano: bass, percussion, and a melody instrument or singer, usually more. Piano transcriptions are extremely rhythmically complex to capture the offbeat bass rhythm, accompanying harmony, and melody – Liszt’s symphonic transcriptions are not far off. Even more entertaining was that, just a week earlier, the CTPO’s new piano was presented and inaugurated by Paul Lewis playing Brahms 2, review below. When MacGregor leaned under the lid of the new baby to mute the base strings of the rhythm she was playing, I could only imagine the inner gasps of horror from the audience! “Noooo!!! What is she doooooing to our new baaaaabyyyyy!!!” But the new Steinway sauntered out of its trial by Latin fire, brushing the ash off it’s collar without a hair out of place. The encore was an uproarious success.

Joanna MacGregor, Arjan Tien, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Joanna MacGregor after the encore: Milonga del Angel and Libertango, Piazzolla

The evening of un-square timing was complete with Stravinsky’s Firebird, orchestra members fondly referring to the timing in places as merely “1”. Requiring focussed rehearsal, and clear indication in performing, Tien’s conducting style is ideally suited in its precision. Like a dancer at times, his movements are accurate, beats clearly visible at the top of his baton. This must be a huge relief for an orchestra, allowing the soloists to shine – sublime oboe and celli in the “Round of the Princesses”, and beautiful performances by principals Brandon Phillips bassoon and Sergie Burdukov oboe. Caroline Prozesky’s horn made the most goose fleshy spine tingly entry into the finale, the phoenix reborn, rising though the smoke of its ashes. It is among the more challenging works for orchestra and the CTPO’s synchronism was amazing. In this case, pressure certainly does make diamonds.

Arjan Tien, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Arjan Tien and the CTPO after Stravinsky The Firebird

Arjan Tien, Joanna MacGregor

Louis Heyneman, Arjan Tien, Joanna MacGregor

Paul Lewis Arjan Tien CTPO – Berlioz Brahms Beethoven #ClassicalConcertReview

Paul Lewis Arjan Tien CTPO – Berlioz Brahms Beethoven #ClassicalConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Arjan Tien
Soloist: Paul Lewis
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 26 January 2017

BERLIOZ ROMAN CARNIVAL OVERTURE – BRAHMS PIANO CONCERTO NO.1 IN D MINOR OP.15 – BEETHOVEN SYMPHONY NO.5 IN C MINOR OP. 67

The 11th CTPO International Summer Music Festival opened with a refreshing sense of excitement and optimism that infused the concert from start from finish. In a quick speech from the stage before the overture, Cape Town Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson announced the budget of 46 million Rand to be invested in the refurbishment of the City Hall over a period of 4 years!! This music to the ears invited smiling high spirited applause and renewed our long standing hope that the city’s iconic centre of orchestral music would be restored to its former elegance. There was something of a Christmas morning to this concert, as if we had all been very good and Santa was giving us all the presents we always wanted. Lurking under the tree behind the other presents (second violins and violas) was a brand new Steinway, complete with red ribbon and bow. In another mini presentation before the concerto, orchestra CEO Louis Heyneman presented the keys to the piano to stage manager Salie Paulse, to further delighted applause. But this concert will be remembered for more than its heart warming sense of family, support, and success after perseverance far beyond expectation. The orchestra was on top form, and they had one of their favourite conductors leading them through a program that seemed as enjoyable to play as it was to hear.

Ian Neilson, Paul Lewis, Arjan Tien, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Andy Wilding #ClassicalConcertReview

Cape Town Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson announcing the budget of 46 million Rand to be invested in the refurbishment of the City Hall

Unusually, one noticed two conspicuously giraffe-like double-basses seated where the second violins would normally be on the left, and on closer inspection the second violins were sitting in the cello section and the celli were sitting in the violas and it was all rather confusing. But there is method in the madness, as Maestro Tien explained to me last year when he chose the same layout to conduct Melvyn Tan’s Mendelssohn 1 and Brahms second symphony with the CTPO on May 12. For practical and acoustic reasons, the layout of the orchestra has always been at the discretion of the conductor. Until Mahler’s time (1860 – 1911) it is very likely that the treble and bass were balanced equally across the stage: The violins are in front – 1sts on the left, and 2nds on the right. This creates a wonderful clarity as violins almost always play in two parts, and these two parts are more identifiable when panned left and right. Celli are in the centre for warm-heartedness, and double basses flank the cello section two on either side. Maestro Tien prefers this layout for works conceived before Mahler’s time – the entire classical period and a great number of romantic composers. Wagner (1813 – 1883) conducted his own works using the layout that is now considered modern, which is how we most often see the CTPO seated. The use by modern conductors of Wagner’s layout is due to his extremely high influence on composers like Debussy and Strauss and his continued legacy through Furtwängler into the recording age.

Arjan Tien has a precise clearly defined conducting style that seems to have a reassuring effect on the audience. His rhythmic visual upbeats project a demeanour of someone completely in control, calm, and easy to follow. His swelling crescendos are exhilarating, always leaving enough in reserve for a hair raising climax. Berlioz’ rousing galloping Roman Carnival theme recurs a number of times and each received a unique treatment. The overture may also be remembered for a stunning cor angles solo by Carin Bam and succinct precise percussion.

Paul Lewis, Arjan Tien, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Andy Wilding #ClassicalConcertReview

The CTPO’s new piano being carefully positioned for its inaugural performance by Paul Lewis

After some delightful ado to much applause involving the removal of a giant bow and ribbon from the shiny new piano, Maestro Paul Lewis took the stage. Things became somewhat surreal as the opening bars of Brahms’ 15th registered work erupted from tympani and brass. At this point the audience had a number of things to be excited about and it was hard to tell which was more fascinating: the sound of the new piano and how it differed from the previous one, or the phenomenal and faultless performance by a visiting international super star. The exposition of the concerto was for me quite a dreamy bemusing state of hypnosis where Lewis’ exceptional performance was unsurprising. I found my attention drawn to the bright singing tones of the decidedly beautiful new instrument, chosen from the factory in Hamburg by our own Maestro and professor François du Toit. The new piano is like the Mediterranean in sparkle, depth, mystery, and clarity all the way to the bottom.

In the second subject, I came to Lewis’ performance – gorgeous notes falling from the piano like soft rain. Lewis has mastered a remarkable artistic skill and control that stretches the timing of phrases in the span of his hand, never late, and yet so fluid. The development of the first movement rumbled in darkness and thunder… We were in the presence of Apollo! Such power. Accuracy. Elegance. It was a hair-standing-on-end performance that had us floating in our seats – a technically polished delivery of which any great pianists would be proud, imbibed with lyrical soul. He pronounces the profound in Brahms. The lilt in his line conveys a spontaneity as if improvising a story, the enchanted audience hanging on every word.

Paul Lewis, Arjan Tien, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Andy Wilding #ClassicalConcertReview

Pianist Paul Lewis and Conductor Arjan Tien after the Brahms piano concerto no. 1 with the CTPO

The interval was astonished.

Beethoven 5th Symphony, although standard repertoire, must be among the greatest challenges for a conductor. There is so much comparison, so many individuals in every audience and every orchestra having their own favourite version which they consider to be the benchmark. Arjan Tien led the CTPO in a distinct and individualistic interpretation that avoided the obvious without upsetting widely accepted norms. His treatment of the immortal and beloved ‘knocking of fate’ theme was crisp and dogmatic, with the answering line closely following the first, keeping a sense of movement and not over-labouring the obvious.

The City Hall has hosted one or two notorious cases of Beethoven Espresso performances, which many audience members and orchestra players found ridiculously fast (although this reviewer rather likes the pacey interpretations of David Zinman and Krystian Zimerman). As a piano student of Beethoven expert Dr. Stewart Young, I always enjoyed hearing about his internationally acclaimed doctorate research into Beethoven’s tempo markings. To present an all-too-short summery that no doubt excludes volumes of important facts: many modern researchers believe that Beethoven was using a faulty metronome and hence, some of his given tempi are not only impossible in many cases, but also contradict the Italian terms he gives (eg. Allegro con brio). Hence the wide scope for interpretation of the tempo of Beethoven’s works. A reliable source of reference is Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny who attended many contemporary performances of Beethoven’s works and played them himself, and from his notes it is possible to arrive at some astonishing reinterpretations of Beethoven’s tempi.

Tien’s tempi in the 5th symphony were exciting without raising too many eyebrows. My silent iPhone metronome app measured around 96 crotchets per minute for the first movement. This is by no means dawdling, but in my understanding Beethoven expected no less of a virtuosic performance from his orchestras as he did from his soloists. The languid opening bars of the second movement inspired a collective deep breath from the audience after the intensity and excitement of the Allegro. An easy 80 crotchets, it was a sensitive and lovely performance of perhaps the most well loved work in the classical repertoire, immaculately performed. Tien’s control over dynamics and the responsiveness of the CTPO is astounding: mid-phrase, an instrumentalist’s level can be brought up or down as if on a mixing desk.

The bridge into the fourth movement demonstrated Tien’s ability to make something old into something new, incredible suspense and trepidation as tympani and strings cross over thin creaking ice through the mist into the final movement. Even though we all knew what was coming, Tien brought the burst of triumphant fanfare that opens the finale in all its joy and relief, as if for the first time. He has an almost child like energy, irrepressibly jumping with excitement that is of course highly contagious and translates directly via the CTPO to the audience. However in that ecstatic state, Tien retains such attention to detail, artfully articulating Beethoven’s phrasing and accented notes. There seems to be a great sense of two-way trust between him and the CTPO as he brings them from full after-burn down to single threads and then back into glorious exploding fireworks. His tempo in the final movement accelerated to an exhilarating 110, and the CTPO obligingly ripped it up. They really are a formidable orchestra!

O reader, if you had a similar experience of this concert and feel strongly about supporting classical music in Cape Town, you can easily contribute to the already growing presence of the younger generation at symphony concerts by sharing this review amongst your friends, let them see what all the fuss is about, and bring a few of them with you to the next concert!

Arjan Tien, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Andy Wilding #ClassicalConcertReview

Arjan Tien with the CTPO after performing Beethoven Symphony No.5

 

Paul Lewis, Arjan Tien, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Andy Wilding #ClassicalConcertReview

Paul Lewis, Louis Heyneman, Arjan Tien

David Juritz Beethoven String Quartets #ConcertReview

David Juritz Beethoven String Quartets #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Cape Town Concert Series hosted amazing musicians David Juritz, Suzanne Martens, Karen Gaertner, and Peter Martens for an evening of Beethoven string quartets.
Baxter Concert Hall Saturday 21 May 2016

I love the intensity in a chamber performance. A quartet is really four soloists playing together – each instrumentalist being the soloist for their part. There is no-where to hide. It requires four highly achieving musicians who not only have virtuosic ability in their instrument, but who also have the emotional maturity to relinquish the solo ego in favour of the sound that the composer intended. Last Saturday we were granted an audience with such a quartet. They consulted internationally recognised Beethoven expert Stewart Young, and delivered an exceptional performance of balance and insight.

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David Juritz, Suzanne Martens, Karen Gaertner, Peter Martens, Andy Wilding, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview #CapeTownConcertSeries

David Juritz violin, Suzanne Martens violin, Karen Gaertner viola, Peter Martens cello

String Quartet in C minor Op.18 No.4
Creating tangible tension from the first phrase, Juritz’s mellow melody contrasted excitingly with Martens’ agitated continuo. The hard acoustic of the venue projected the tiniest movement of hair on string, encouraging the quartet to push the extremity of their pianissimo dynamic right down to a feather touch. Phrasing was beautiful, balance exquisite, and tempo fearless in the final Allegro.
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Louise Howlett, David Juritz, Suzanne Martens, Karen Gaertner, Peter Martens, Andy Wilding, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview #CapeTownConcertSeries

Louise Howlett introducing the String Quartet in F major op 135, where they demonstrated the two phrases “Must it be?” and “It must be”.

String Quartet in F major Op.135
It is understandable if some thought Beethoven was going mad towards the end of his repertoire. Even compared to modern geniuses like Shostakovich and Stravinsky, Beethoven bent rules alarmingly, at a time when his audience was barely able to keep up with Haydn! Phrases are interrupted; melodies change from crochets to semiquavers back to crotches; there are spaces of astonishing nothingness filled with wonder; and existential mantras of being, that seem to describe the harmonic mechanics of the Cosmos. Surely these later works were “Conversations with God”, centuries before Neale Donald Walsch learned to write. To my ears, the quartet made such sense of Beethoven’s mystical final work, so that – far beyond the reflection of their own interpretive skill – they resurrected his essence and spoke his mind for all to hear. Beethoven doesn’t live any more, doesn’t walk and slam doors and shout and notate the Universe, but he exists in performances such as this. I was not alone in my philosophy, next to me I heard an audience member during the applause: “It’s so wonderful to be at a concert like this. Everyone is transported into a very special time and space.”
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David Juritz, Suzanne Martens, Karen Gaertner, Peter Martens, Andy Wilding, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview #CapeTownConcertSeries

David Juritz, Suzanne Martens, Karen Gaertner, Peter Martens

String Quartet in C major Op.59 No.3
This was a great example of four virtuosos on stage. The performance was recordable, with exciting moments of seamlessness as Martens’ cello finished Juritz’s violin runs. The unison playing was impeccable. The coda in the last movement is extended, building almost to climax, then receding, gathering more energy, then building again. The quartet sustained intensity without losing momentum, and the resulting suspense was riveting.

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David Juritz, Suzanne Martens, Karen Gaertner, Peter Martens, Andy Wilding, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview #CapeTownConcertSeries

Bryan Wallick Arjan Tien – Britten Prokofiev Mendelssohn #CTPO #ConcertReview

Bryan Wallick Arjan Tien – Britten Prokofiev Mendelssohn #CTPO #ConcertReview

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.

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Bryan Wallick, #CTPO, Arjan Tien, Andy Wilding

Bryan Wallick with the CTPO and Arjan Tien after the Prokofiev Piano Concerto no.2

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.

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Arjan Tien, #CTPO, Andy Wilding

Arjan Tien and the CTPO after the Mendelssohn with stereo double-basses!!

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.

BOOK NOW AT COMPUTICKET OR ARTSCAPE DIAL-A-SEAT: 021 421 7695

David Aladashvili Louis Heyneman Recital #ConcertReview

David Aladashvili Louis Heyneman Recital #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Hosted by Louis Heyneman at his home in Cape Town 17 May 2016

Program:

Chopin – Polonaise in A-flat
Beethoven – 6 Bagatelles
Beethoven – Piano Sonata no. 8 “Pathetique”
Schumann – Kinderszenen
Chopin – Scherzo no. 2
Liszt – Mephiosto Waltz
Encore: Revaz Lagmidze

We often think of talented artists such as Aladashvili or Chopin playing in front of thousands of people, but classical music has always survived as much in chamber and salon performances as in concert halls. The atmosphere in Louis Heyneman’s lounge last Tuesday evoked a thousand-year-old feeling, and a cross-cultural tradition, where a small group of artists, academics, and enthusiasts would enjoy an evening of music together. Aladashvili explained that this tradition is very prolific in Georgia (neighbouring the Black Sea, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey).

His spoken interactions with the audience were relaxed, easy, confident, and in good humour, so that we felt less of a formal audience and more like some friends who he invited over to see what he was playing. I suddenly realised how important this is for an artist – to speak to the audience. Singers have an immediate advantage in that their art is exactly that, albeit more singingly. We hear their voice, and we have a sense of the person behind the skill. Instrumentalists, having no official reason to speak, can come across as a little cagey – walk on, play, mumble something about an encore, bow, leave. There is a warmth and charm in speaking to the audience that seems natural to Aladashvili, and works greatly to his advantage.

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David Aladashvili, Andy Wilding Classical Review

David Aladashvili has a wonderful confidence and charisma in his presentation

This was especially appreciated with the program music, like the Bagatelles and Kinderszenen. Narrating in between short movements includes one of oldest and most hypnotic forms of entertainment: story-telling. It also has the functional advantage of leading the audience through a program, where it’s nice to know what each movement is about. One can easily lose track following typed program notes. It was easily to imagine a similar atmosphere in the salons of the Romantic period.

Aladashvili portrayed a fluid technique, effortless runs, tasteful sensitivity, and careful control. He delights in dynamic contrasts and a beautiful variety of tone. There is a distinctly individual soul in his interpretations that speaks of a deep understanding and personal meaningfulness in his choice of works. He has a good navigation system, as if listening to a higher source, and playing what he hears.

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David Aladashvili, Andy Wilding Classical Review

Pianist David Aladashvili in between movements of the Schumann Kinderszenen

His charisma and presence comes across well in his playing, courageously taking out the wildest horse in the stable – Mephosto. It was an exiting finale, full of suspense, drama, and expressive story-telling.

And then it got wilder. The encore depicts a Georgian “Olympic” sport that involves a really great skill of wine drinking and wrestling!!!

What a ride!

FOM Soirée – Rachmaninov Mendelssohn #ConcertReview

FOM Soirée – Rachmaninov Mendelssohn #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Artists:

Bryan Wallick piano, Peter Martens cello, David Juritz violin, Suzanne Martens violin, Janna Thomas violin, Matthew Stead violin, Karin Gaertner viola, Emile de Roubaix viola, Marian Lewin cello, Barbara Kennedy cello, Eddie McLean cello, Cheryl de Havilland cello, Dane Coetzee cello

Old Mutual House, Saturday 14 May 2016

The soirèe was an initiative of the Friends of Orchestral Music in Cape Town, an annual event.

The histories of ancient Egypt, Sumer, India, and China, all describe a situation that persisted into the courts of western Europe and the modern age: fine culture thrives in the ideal environment where society places a high value on supporting the arts.

The perfection of high art and music has always thrived under patronage. Heydays are the result of the ideal social environment that permeated the soirée last Saturday. As it has been for thousands of years, those who are passionate and able attended and gave generously, and in return identified themselves and their organisations with the values of artistic genius. The result of nurturing and acknowledging a system of lofty cultural values may well be another approaching heyday for classical music in Cape Town.

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Rachmaninov – Vocalise
Cello sextet: Peter Martens, Marian Lewin, Barbara Kennedy, Eddie McLean, Cheryl de Havilland, Dane Coetzee

The evening began with a deliciously smooth aperitif, sumptuous and rich like the cream sherry I was offered upon arriving. Originally written for cello and piano, the arrangement for cello sextet by Hans Erik Deckert features beautiful extended voicings and counterpoint. In shades of maroon and violet, Martens’ leading legato meandered heart-tuggingly between billowing velvety curtains of the accompanying quintet.

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Bryan Wallick, Peter Martens, FOM soirée, #ConcertReview, Andy Wilding

Bryan Wallick and Peter Martens after the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata

Rachmaninov – Cello Sonata in G minor
Peter Martens Cello, Bryan Wallick Piano

Entertaining us during the brief scene change, Martens modestly described the imminent work as a piano concerto with cello as accompaniment. His meaning regarding the piano part soon became clear, the wonderful second subject not unlike the second piano concerto op. 18. In fact the sonata was Rachmaninov’s very next work, op. 19 – a beautiful younger sister to the concerto. Wallick’s technique is crisp and sensitive, blending and balancing exquisitely with the cello. The effect was rather like a Renoir – a lovely dreamy hazy impression that on closer inspection reveals articulate precise brush strokes. We certainly were in the presence of two masters. Martens’ cello is one of the most beautiful sounds – a deep rich harmonic wooden stringed singing being. His playing is superb, compassionate elegant phrasing, and flawless technique. His bow knows the exact line between the tender softness and the hard edge, and this extra dimension is masterfully applied to his dynamics. He expresses a full range of emotion, from angst and agitation to acceptance and wisdom.

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David Juritz, Suzanne Martens, Janna Thomas, Matthew Stead, Karin Gaertner, Emile de Roubaix, Peter Martens, Dane Coetzee, FOM soirée, #ConcertReview, Andy Wilding

From left: David Juritz violin, Suzanne Martens violin, Janna Thomas violin, Matthew Stead violin, Karin Gaertner viola, Emile de Roubaix viola, Peter Martens cello, Dane Coetzee cello

Mendelssohn – Octet in E-flat
David Juritz violin, Suzanne Martens violin, Janna Thomas violin, Matthew Stead violin, Karin Gaertner viola, Emile de Roubaix viola, Peter Martens cello, Dane Coetzee cello

Lest we forgot Mendelssohn’s childhood talent (as I had) we were reminded that he was 16 when he composed this masterpeace. And what a treat it was to hear these pretty, pretty phrases peeling off the stage in real time and total synchronism. With four violins, two violas, and two cellos, it was an incredible demonstration of dynamic variation and clean technique in a large chamber group that could also qualify as a small orchestra. Eight instrumentalists shredding in unison – it’s difficult not to clap after that! And what a contrast in the second movement, shrouded in mist and mystery, ending on the dominant, the Andante is an unspeakable enigma, beautifully captured by these artists as they crossed that ghostly Rubicon into the Gypsy-like Scherzo. One had to wonder how on earth a 16-year-old prodigy could be so worldly – and other-worldly. The octet delivered amazing dialogue between parts, and such a vibrant, dramatic finale – they just went for it, and their accuracy was exhilarating!

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Bryan Wallick returns with violinist Rachel Lee Priday on 11 June for a Winter Matinée by the Cape Town Concert Series at the Baxter Concert Hall. Details here

Peter Martens performs the sublime Dvořák cello concerto, opening the CTPO Winter Symphony Concert Season on June 16. Details here

 

Melvyn Tan CTPO Arjan Tien – Puccini Mendelssohn Brahms #ConcertReview

Melvyn Tan CTPO Arjan Tien – Puccini Mendelssohn Brahms #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Arjan Tien
Soloist: Melven Tan
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 12 May 2016

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Curtain-raiser: Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble, Faan Malan
Hidas – Capriccio

I am always glad to see Cape Town’s youth orchestras performing – its a reminder that hundreds of young people are practising their art and honing their skills to be able to play the kind of music that some fear is in danger of becoming extinct. Last Thursday, the CPYWE reassured us that the future of classical music is in capable hands. We were served a meticulously rehearsed and synchronous aperitif, fresh and light with twinkling percussion on xylophone and marimba. Malan captured the capricious yet well conceived nature of the work.

Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble, Faan Malan, Andy Wilding

The Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble with conductor Faan Malan

Puccini – Capriccio Sinfonico
This caper begins rather seriously, revealing exceptional control from horns and brass, before opening out expansively with sweeping strings and heavenly harp. I was not alone in wondering why the double-basses were positioned on the left of the stage. I tweeted “What madness is this!!” But after the concert, Maestro Arjan Tien explained the method in the madness: apparently it was Wagner’s fault.

I was surprised to learn how little regard is given to the composer’s positioning of the orchestra on the stage. Understandably, the layout needs to be flexible to accommodate the vast variety of different performing venues, but it is usually the conductor who has the final say on layout. Ever the extremist, Wagner conducted his own works with the all bass on the right of the stage, (tuba, trombones, bassoons, double basses) and all the treble on the left (violins). We usually see the CTPO lining up this way because Wagner was extremely influential to composers like Debussy and Strauss, and his conducting legacy continued through Furtwängler into the recording age. BUT up until Mahler’s time, Maestro Tien explained, it is very likely that the treble and bass were evenly balanced stereophonically across the stage, with violins in front left and right, and bass at the back, double basses left and brassy windy bass right. Having completely disorientated everyone, Tien delivered an individual, decisive interpretation, lifting interesting details out from a wide volumetric oceanic orchestra.

Melvyn Tan, CTPO, Arjan Tien, Andy Wilding

Full house standing ovation for Melvyn Tan’s Mendelssohn!

Mendelssohn – Piano Concerto No. 1
Elevated from a short orchestral crescendo, Melvyn Tan entered at precisely the orchestra’s level, like Jack Sparrow stepping onto that jetty from the mast of his sinking ship. This concerto is such a bright jewel, such a darling, every moment is precious and so swiftly changing, a pas de deux between piano and orchestra, where balance is crucial. Tan’s nonchalant control was quite breath-taking, matching the orchestra’s hight and volume with a confidence that indicated either insanity, or skill beyond imagination. His bars often stretched plastically, as if to prolong the beauty of the composer’s ideas, and yet he was always on tempo. His attention to detail was meticulous, perfectly dotted rhythms even through rapids that would frighten lesser pianists into abandoning the dots, and holding on for dear life. His intensely individual style and fantasy-free interpretation is characterised by beautiful dynamic expression, water-tight synchronism, and a sense of adventure that made his dance with the CTPO exciting and fun, like playing with an echo. The piano and orchestra parts are so close that at times they finish each other’s sandwiches. Conductor Tien’s arrangement of the stage, which he believes Mendelssohn to have used, positioned the pianist in a close chamber group with violin Farida Bacharova behind him and first cello Kristiyan Chernev to his left, and Tan made full use of this in his close connection with the orchestra principals. In the softness of the Andante, Tan continued to shine, revealing masterful dynamic variation, even during a trill. The orchestra responded warmly – there was the most wonderful moment between celli, violas, double-basses and horns. We don’t often see a full house standing ovation but Tan earned one, demonstrating perfect balance in a rare combination of dexterity, power, and playfulness.

Arjan Tien, CTPO, Andy Wilding

Conductor Arjan Tien after a riviting performance of Brahms Symphony 2 with the CTPO

Brahms – Symphony No. 2
The Allegro opened serenely and pastorally, so peaceful, just the slightest movement of Tien’s baton. The strings, although confusingly placed, sounded wonderful and warm. Before I properly understood the arrangement, I noted: “…it may even be that placing the double-basses on the left and swapping the 2nd violins and celli, adds to the roundness of the sound.” But the more I listened, the more I became aware that hearing the double-basses on the left was actually changing the whole sound – kind of reverse stereo! But I loved it for more than just the novelty because bass instruments have a totally different texture from each other, and their textures are more identifiable when panned left and right. Violins almost always play in two parts, and these two parts are more identifiable when panned left and right. The ensemble work in the third movement between Oboe Sergei Burdukov and first row celli pizzicato was sublime. There are any number of terrifying moments in the final movement, Tien and the CTPO mastered them all. He has a clear, decisive style, seemingly all-encompassing, with a great ear for detail and phrasing, the first note of runs neatly accentuated. He navigated the off-beat confluence of merging parts brilliantly, knitting them together at a most spirited allegro, so that each part landed exactly where it needed to. The symphony was Brahmsian – proud, noble, flowingly regal, and rhythmically tight through extremely challenging syncopation.

Melvyn Tan, Arjan Tien, Any Wilding

Arjan Tien congratulates Melvyn Tan on his stunning performance after the concert

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Maestro Tien returns to conduct the CTPO next Thursday:

Britten – Passacaglia from Peter Grimes
Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No 2
Mendelssohn – Symphony no. 3 “Scottish”

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