Jack Liebeck, Victor Yampolsky – Strauss, Bruch, Brahms #ConcertReview

Jack Liebeck, Victor Yampolsky – Strauss, Bruch, Brahms #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Victor Yampolsky
Guest Artist: Jack Liebeck
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday, 18 February 2016

Last Thursday saw the return of one of the worlds finest conductors Maestro Victor Yampolsky, directing rising star Jack Liebeck in the Bruch Violin concerto. The concert was sold out, and to my ear Liebeck’s performance emerged among the highest peaks in recent CTPO concerts, along with Joshua Bell’s Tchaikovsky last year. If I am not alone in perceiving the climbing standard of Cape Town’s classical concerts, then perhaps those who are in a position to support the arts are realising the power that they have to bring out performers of such a high calibre as we have recently seen. If this is the case, then Cape Town is lucky indeed, for art thrives when patrons delight in experiencing the finest quality in the world.

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Strauss – Don Juan
Virtuosity, however, is in no way guaranteed by generous patronage. It is only by focusing a significant amount of talent, that one achieves skill with an instrument. The tone poems of Richard Strauss are beautiful, notorious, and treacherous reefs that will wreck a lesser orchestra, but last Thursday the CTPO demonstrated virtuosic talent, singular focus, and seemingly limitless ability. Synchronous strings, breath-taking winds, and emphatic solos were a reminder of the brilliant Symphonie Fantastique two weeks ago, and that clearly, Cape Town has a world class orchestra, capable of performing the most challenging works in the repertoire. Brass were absolutely amazing, their finale theme shining over shimmering violins. Maestro Yampolsky’s conducting is always a pleasure to watch. He has a Karajanesque flare for dramatic timing – a master of accuracy, sensitivity, and surprising dynamics.

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Jack Liebeck, Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Victor Yampolsky

Jack Liebeck’s Bruch – an extraordinary performance of a delightfully high standard.

Bruch – Violin Concerto No. 1
Liebeck’s entrance was a velvety soft cover for laser accuracy, that quickly became intense and exciting. The first subject revealed his virtuoso, as well as a sensitivity to changes, and a foresight to align himself before they happen. If he were a racing driver, there would be a glass of champagne on the dashboard with not one drop spilled after the race, and he would have won. It was easy to enjoy the smooth fast ride, searing flourishes, and heroic balance with the orchestra. His interpretation was fresh and vibrant and gave a sense of continuity without missing anything important emotionally. The adagio arrived with little warning, just the onset of a sublime moment as wonderful as anyone could desire, lovely support from the violas. The entry into the finale was surprising, like the pounce of a panther. It was an extraordinary performance of a delightfully high standard.

If you run you can catch Liebeck’s performance with Amandine Savary at the Baxter this Saturday 20 Feb 8pm! Debussy, Beethoven, Lalo, Brahms
http://www.ctconcerts.co.za/concerts/jack-liebeck/

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Victor Yampolsky, Suzanne Martens, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor Victor Yampolsky and concert master Suzanne Martens after Brahms Symphony 4, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Brahms – Symphony No. 4
There was something about the opening of this work that felt like the beginning of a voyage – leaving port in fine weather, venturing into the open ocean, secure in the hands of an experienced captain. (Orchestra CEO Louis Heyneman used a similar metaphor at the reception after the concert!) One could be forgiven for imagining a huge steering wheel on Yampolsky’s podium. In fact, he seemed to be conducting not only the ship, but also the ocean, surging and receding in delicious rich colours. His tempi were exciting but responsible, and we felt safe even in the high swell, as he artfully navigated through Brahms’ frequently overlapping currents of 2 beats against 3.

The andante was an enchanting fluid legato, searching deeply and discovering profoundly.

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Next week our virtuoso orchestra returns:

The Complete Beethoven Piano Concerti
Conductor: Victor Yampolsky
Soloist: François Du Toit

Wednesday 24 February Piano Concerti 1,2 and 4
Thursday 25 February Piano Concerti 3 and 5 (“Emperor”)

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

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Olga Kern, Bernhard Gueller – Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Berlioz #ConcertReview

Olga Kern, Bernhard Gueller – Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Berlioz #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Bernhard Gueller
Soloist: Olga Kern
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday, 11 February 2016

For those who did not brave the chaos of the #ZumaMustFall “state of the nation address” – what a concert!

Ms Kern’s return to her beloved Cape Town was received with an exhilarating sense of wonder, and a feeling that one is very fortunate to be in the audience of such a talented and and inspiring artist.

Olga Kern, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra #ClassicalReview

Olga Kern after the Tchaikovsky, with Bernhard Gueller and the CTPO

Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 3
If striking elegance, wiry strength, and washes of running fluidity are Kern’s calling cards, then last Thursday she played all her aces. I enjoyed her imaginative interpretation of the concerto, which I found fitting as the composer himself was not a pianist, and must have relied greatly on his own imagination when composing piano music. Often reaching beyond what seems possible, his work requires a certain imagination to perform. The cadenza extends belief in the potential of the instrument. With imploding complexity, it culminates in a point of singularity, a trill that sustains until order and believability is restored. It was quite a journey – a riveting performance of brilliant technique and exceptional balance.

And how did the CTPO follow such an astonishing performance? In a sweeping victory of artistic direction…

Tchiakovsky – Eugene Onegin: Polonaise
Yes! Exactly perfect! Already a little bamboozled by the concerto, the audience that night were swept into a triumphant procession of greatness and excitement, the likes of which so few other composers can approach, and the delivery was immaculate. I hope very much that the recording made that night will be available to play on FMR – this performance deserves a place as one of the orchestra’s greatest show pieces. They absolutely nailed it, and they looked like they were having fun! Amazing to be there.

Farida Bacharova, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra #ClassicalReview

Conductor Bernhard Gueller congratulating concert master Farida Bacharova

And the excitement didnt stop there…

Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
After just a few minutes rest (the Polonaise is only 4 and a half minutes) our soloist was back for one of the most popular works in the repertoire. Conductor Gueller somehow managed to bring the surprises even in such a well loved work. Each variation hit the ground running, or in Ms Kern’s case skimming infinitely like a flat pebble across a tranquil blue lake. The syncopation makes the work challenging for any orchestra, often playing off the beat. With Gueller expertly and sensitively matching the tempo of Rachmaninov’s relentless piano, the CTPO handled this excellently, bringing to us those outstanding moments by Caroline Prozesky horn, Daniel Prozesky clarinet, Farida Bacharova violn, and Eugene Trofimczyk glockenspiel. Kern’s delivery was romantic and lovely, appropriately sublime or mind bending where required. All the favourite variations lived up to high expectations. Beautiful performance Olga Kern! Thank you.

We were treated to an encore: Rachmaninov Moment Musicaux Op. 16 No. 4 – a right hand of graceful power floating over the left hand cascade of stunning technique.

Bernhard Gueller, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra #ClassicalReview

The final downbeat of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, Bernhard Gueller with the CTPO

Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique
This is a great peace to watch! There is so much magic and chaos in the sound, that it’s sometimes hard to imagine how the many elements and interruptions can be performed live, in real time, one take. It seems that, aside from conducting this work, one also needs to be an event co-ordinator, and Gueller plied this skill effortlessly along with his signature passion, tasteful balance, and love of surprises. A crown jewel of the symphonic repertoire, it was a rare treat to witness this performance unfolding before our senses. The waltz was a lightly wafting bright hazy afternoon surrealist dream, like elephants in hot air balloons floating around inside the concert hall.

Another show piece for the CTPO, it was an outstanding performance from the whole orchestra. Strings were clean and fresh, brass were strong, amazing performances from all the winds, bassoons mastered a very technical section, completely together. Jaw dropping solos from Gabriele von Durkheim flute, Sergei Burdukov oboe, Olga Burdukov cor anglais, and Daniel Prozesky’s extremely difficult wobbly witch clarinet solo – a tune made of trills – all but stole the show.

Olga Kern, Victor Yampolsky, Bernhard Gueller

Olga Kern, Victor Yampolsky, and Bernhard Gueller at the reception. Don’t miss Yampolsky next Thursday!

No government interference next week: Thursday 18 Feb

Strauss – Don Juan
Bruch – Violin Concerto No.1
Brahms – Symphony No. 4

Conductor: Victor Yampolsky
Violin: Jack Liebeck

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

Camerata Tinta Barocca & Cape Consort: Handel’s Messiah #ConcertReview

Camerata Tinta Barocca & Cape Consort: Handel’s Messiah #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Camerata Tinta Barocca in collaboration with the Cape Consort, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Wednesday 9 December 2015

After 6 months as CTB Artistic Director, harpsichordist Erik Dippenaar continues to provide interesting and entertaining pre-concert talks, and always finds a way to relate the issues of the mid 18th century to modern times. He dedicated the evening’s performance to recent outbreaks of stupidity, violent insanity, and suffering in the world.

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The Cape Consort: Antoinette Blyth, Elsabé Richter, Lente Louw, Vera Vukovic, Alexandra Hamilton, Monika Voysey, Nick de Jager, Willem Bester, Warren Vernon-Driscoll, Reinhardt Liebenberg, Patrick Cordery, Charles Ainslie

Camerata Tinta Barocca & Cape Consort about to play Handel’s Messiah

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At full tutti, the combined forces of CTB and the Cape Consort were a heavenly and perfect balance of sound. Given that the material lends itself to the sound of perfection, that is merely its potential, and does not guarantee the performance. It is amazing to hear this work interpreted with such innocence and clarity, and performed with conviction and immaculate synchronism. CTB lived up to their reputation, maintaining their high standards of timing and excellent dynamic and technical control on period instruments. It is the singers who shine brightest in Handel’s Messiah, and the Cape Consort were well matched to the instrumentalists. We enjoyed a rich balance of voices and orchestra, through mesmerizing cascades of fugal tendrils, and crisp dotted rhythms. “For unto us a child is born” was such an exquisite delivery, so graceful and full of light – each phrase like a bite-size lemon-meringue caramel drop, melting in the mouth. The “Hallelujah” was simply spectacular.

Leopold Mozart is famously quoted: “Performers there are who tremble consistently on each note as if they had the palsy.” (source) Much like Beethoven’s tempo markings, tremolo (vibrato) is a sensitive issue, especially with Baroque music, but our soloists last Thursday achieved an ideal balance between the nude charm of the undressed voice, and the sophisticated “natural quivering” (L. Mozart) of sustained notes. Soprano Antoinette Blyth demonstrated wonderful baroque timbre, simple and accurate, with tasteful use of tremolo. Elsabé Richter has a stunning voice and compelling audience eye-contact. Her delivery was beguilingly fresh, as if singing for the first time, and yet magical, with a feeling that she knows exactly what she is doing. This temperament was perfectly suited to “I know that my redeemer” – a deceptively innocent little song, demanding an advanced level of accomplishment and experience on the part of the performer. Lente Louw is always a treat! We did “Rejoice greatly” indeed, the aria is highly technical and written for an accomplished singer. Her alto duet with Elsabé Richter “He shall feed his flock” had the audience hanging on every note, so hazy and dreamy in a lulling lazy 6/8, like two angles dancing. Not to go on and on, “But thou didst not leave” was absolutely breathtaking.

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The Cape Consort: Antoinette Blyth, Elsabé Richter, Lente Louw, Vera Vukovic, Alexandra Hamilton, Monika Voysey, Nick de Jager, Willem Bester, Warren Vernon-Driscoll, Reinhardt Liebenberg, Patrick Cordery, Charles Ainslie,

Camerata Tinta Barocca with Cape Consort soloists backrow from left: 1 Antoinette Blyth, 2 Elsabé Richter, 3 Lente Louw, 6 Monika Voysey, 7 Nick de Jager, 8 Willem Bester, 9 Warren Vernon-Driscoll, 12 Charles Ainslie

Alto Nick de Jager may well have stolen the show with amazing arpeggios in his falsetto register and seamless crossover into his modal voice. There is a natural authenticity about the male alto in Baroque music, being the closest available version of the castrato. The sound is also reminiscent of period wind instruments such as baroque flute – a breathy simpleness that can be disarmingly technical, and adds striking colour to acapella sections. Monika Voysey paradoxed her full soft deep mezzo roundness with accuracy and crystalline diction. Her delivery was compassionate and warm.

Tenor Warren Vernon-Driscoll offered a velvet version of the challenging “Every valley” with excellent intonation. Willem Bester was an artfully concealed jewel, emerging in Part 2 with brilliant technique, tasteful use of vibrato, and beautiful tone.

Charles Ainslie is the other candidate for show-stealer. His powerful bass and good audience contact ankered the dramatic deep end of the work, with a spine chilling “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth”, supported by eery atmospheric harpsichord, uneasy double bass, and edgy violins. In many ways the mainstay of the work, he was able to draw together the ethos of relating issues of the mid 18th century (and even biblical times) to modern issues. “Why do the nations” is still as topical now as it was in Handel’s time, and just as topical in biblical times. “Why do the nations so furiously rage together: why do the people imagine a vain thing?”

I felt that beneath this performance of Handel’s Messiah was a clear interpretation that folded the last two thousand years into the present, with a Baroque flavour. The singers and instrumentalists of the Cape Consort and Camerata Tinta Barocca conveyed a strong message to rise above stupidity and violence, and find a way to live with each-other harmoniously.

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8 Photos on Pinterest:

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FOM Gala Concert – Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO

FOM Gala Concert – Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO

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Antonio Pompa-Baldi plays Brahms 2 in Cape Town

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 19 November 2015

What an amazing year for classical music in Cape Town! We have seen some of the brightest celebrities on the international circuit – Joshua Bell, Maria Kliegel, and last week Antonio Pompa-Baldi – walking onto the City Hall stage. As a non-profit organisation, FOM will direct all proceeds from this gala to support Cape Town’s orchestras and instrumentalists in 2016.

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Brahms – Symphony no.3
Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

We are very fortunate to have Bernhard Gueller as a frequent guest conductor. His style and sound are characterised by a lyrical balance of sensitivity and surging power. Leading often by the mere change of facial expression, he always brings the best out of the orchestra and last Thursday was no exception, with stunning solos from the wind section – Sergei Burdukov oboe, Caroline Prozesky horne, Daniel Prozesky clarinet, Gabriele von Dürckheim flute – artfully carrying Brahms’ beautiful melodies.

The standard of performance was such that it allowed the natural function of Brahm’s music to emerge. His music has the potential to hold a space for the audience in which they can unpack accumulated stress, mental turmoil, and emotional anguish, and let go. It reaches all the sadness in ourselves and the world and establishes a dogma for it, a system of order that emerges from the wash of emotion. And somehow this dogma is very compassionate, and essentially in the case of this symphony, uplifting and liberating. In the paradoxically private sanctuary of a concert hall, one can experience the feeling of being moved – but only if the delivery is of an exceptional quality, and this was the wonderful case in both works for the FOM Gala Concert.

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Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Antonio Pompa-Baldi after playing Brahms Piano Concerto No.2

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Brahms – Piano Concerto No.2
Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

It occasionally bears observing, that Brahms was himself a phenomenal pianist. He invented a previously unknown style of rapidly overlapping, widely spaced arpeggios, that require a somewhat unbelievable grasp of the instrument. It has been a long time since I heard a performance like this, and I don’t think I have ever seen one. Pompa-Baldi’s control of balance and dynamics enable hand-aching technique to sound like soft velvet, the hard edges of the keys seeming to melt into colours. His concerto was a rich luscious painting by an Italian master. There is a sense in his phrasing that speaks of profound mental and emotional understanding of the material, and of exceptional physical expression. The balance in his fingers is stunning, lifting the melody from a rippling accompaniment that spans the entire resister and frequently crosses the melody. His double octaves are astonishing. The orchestra was oceanic and nurturing – a transcendental cello solo from Kristiyan Chernev in the 3rd movement. There was such a tranquillity and beauty to this performance that it may well be remembered as one of the finest moments in the City Hall.

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Bernhard Gueller and Antonio Pompa-Baldi

Bernhard Gueller with Antonio Pompa-Baldi after the concert

Gala Celebrity Concert with Maria Kliegel and Albie van Schalkwyk

Gala Celebrity Concert with Maria Kliegel and Albie van Schalkwyk

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Cape Town Concert Series, Baxter Concert Hall, Saturday 14 November 2015
Cello: Maria Kliegel
Piano: Albie van Schalkwyk

For the second time in three days, Cape Town audiences were treated to a stunning performance by one of the world’s leading cellists. The program was book-ended by sonatas, Saint-Saëns to begin and Grieg to close, giving the concert a Ferrero Rocher feeling – crunchy and substantial on the outsides, with a smooth delicious core. After two quite meditative works at the City Hall last Thursday, (Bruch’s Kol Nidrei and Bloch’s Shelomo) the sonatas were a refreshing counterpart that revealed the academic side of Kliegel’s diversity: astounding accuracy and perfect intonation, with surreal double stops. Within the more stringent form of the sonatas, her amazing resonance and harmonic-rich bow technique opens a wonderful depth to her tone, striking an immediate chord with her mentor Rostropovich. She expresses a clear fondness for exotic modes through her amazing dynamics and astounding control.
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Maria Kliegel, Albie van Schalkwyk, Cape Town Concert Series

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As a duo, Kliegel and van Schalkwyk are well matched, as much in their elegant taste, as in technique and passion. The “smooth delicious core” of the program, (de Falla, Granados, Cassadó) conjured a carnival-like flavour of festivity, frequently wondering into mysterious knowing. De Falla’s “Nana” was the second time in three days that I was too spell bound to write. (The first was during Kliegel’s Kol Nidrei at the City Hall.) Originally a song, the cello melody is a beautiful lullaby in the Spanish phrygian mode, accompanied by an ethereal, unearthly piano. The duo’s interpretation transcended wisdom with simplicity – Kliegels bow seeming to describe the inevitable movement of the planets over aeons, as van Schalkwyk’s notes dropped like glacial water from stalactites.

Kliegel gave two encores, a prayer by Bruch, and a dance by Saint-Saëns.

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DON’T MISS THE FOM GALA CELEBRITY CONCERT NOVEMBER 19TH!

Antonio Pompa-Baldi plays Brahms 2 in Cape Town

Maria Kliegel, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO – Bruch, Dvořák, Bloch, Beethoven

Maria Kliegel, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO – Bruch, Dvořák, Bloch, Beethoven

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Cape Town Philharmonic and Youth Orchestras, City Hall, Thursday 12 November 2015

This concert was dedicated to CPO board member Ronnie Samaai, mentor to many of Cape Town’s current professional musicians. As a glimpse into the future, I always find our Youth Orchestra encouraging to watch, and last night they honoured Mr. Samaai with a polished performance of high standard.

Brandon Phillips with the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra after the Dvořák

Brandon Phillips with the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra after the Dvořák

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Curtain Raiser – Dvořák – Symphony No. 9 (iv.)
Brandon Phillips, Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra

Conductor Brandon Phillips achieved a professional pace and good balance, with strong strings against Dvořák’s beloved trombones. His energised and physical conducting style is an agreeable blend of uniqueness and accuracy, and draws a comprehensive response from the orchestra, delivering dramatic dynamics while maintaining sufficient reserve for the climaxes. The CPYO performed outstandingly, particularly woodwinds, with excellent running flutes in the new world theme by Madré Loubser and Robert de Vries, and masterful control from William Hendricks, clarinet. The coda was concise and crisp – in all areas a most encouraging performance.

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Maria Kliegel, Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Maria Kliegel after Bruch, Kol Nidrei, with Bernhard Gueller

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Bruch – Kol Nidrei
Maria Kliegel, Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Quite a way into this work I realised that I was too spellbound to make any notes! Kliegel is phenomenal. Far beyond mastering the demanding techniques of an imperceptible attack and limitless legato, she demonstrates extraordinary knowledge and effortless use of natural harmonics to echo the ends of her phrases. Even more mesmerising, is her ability to use bow harmonics, which were clearly audible throughout her longer strokes. Her sound is exquisite – a contemplative, meditative delivery of each phrase, as if she were merely observing the melody naturally growing from within the instrument.

 

Bloch – Schelomo
Maria Kliegel, Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

In her second appearance, Kliegel sang of the lush exotic romanticism of one of history’s most illusive figures – King Solomon. She interpreted the loosely-metered introduction in the style of ancient Indian, Middle Eastern, and Klezmer music, where the mode or raga of the piece is stated and explored through free improvisation, before developing into the rhythmic section. Kliegel performed as if phrases were coming to her in the moment. She narrated with a humanism that seemed to span every major emotion, and reflect on the wonderful magnificence and pointless wrongs of the world. Her cello was a contemplative observer of joy and suffering alike, acknowledging as if looking down from above, occasionally becoming involved with appropriate passion, indignation, sensitivity, or hopelessness.

Extremely complex, the work comprises frequent mood changes and often portrays the disparateness that occurs when differences can not be resolved. Fragments of the orchestra wonder off in different directions, and accelerate away from the central tempo. It must be maddening to play, and it is a great accolade for the Cape Town Philharmonic to deliver this work at the international standard that we heard last Thursday. Their synchronism was amazing – perfect entries after pauses, even with percussion. If this concert were broadcast and viewed internationally, the world would see a top performance by cellist, conductor, and orchestra.

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Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

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Dvořák – Noon Witch
Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Rather a dark tale, this is never the less, a very magical work and these are always delightfully, and animatedly brought to life by Gueller’s characteristic exciting, dynamic style. We often hear the layering of parts, so that each has its own space in the sound. Atmospheric parts are a softer, in the background, to highlight the melody or soloist, wonderfully illustrated with the appearance of the witch: wispy wraith-like violins supported the wonderful mysterious resonant tones of Brandon Phillips, wearing his bassoonist hat. The winds had much of the descriptive work, sounding convincingly mediaeval and folky, with stunning synchronisation between Daniel Prozesky’s clarinet and the flute of Gabriele von Durckheim.

 

Beethoven – Symphony No. 7
Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

As a piano student of Beethoven specialist Dr. Stewart Young, I have long been a supporter of the “new school” concerning the tempi of Beethoven’s works. The metronome was invented during his time, and the issue of tempo markings is clouded because his metronome seems to have been faulty – many of his tempo markings are absurdly fast and impossible to play. For this reason, most publishers omit tempo markings from Beethoven’s scores, leaving only the Italian terms: allegro, andante etc. However, recent scholars of music such as Dr. Young, David Zinman, Kurt Zandar, and Bernhard Gueller, seem to agree that some clarity can be found with Beethoven’s pupil: Carl Czerny. Czerny’s tempo notes at performances given by Beethoven or approved by him, still exist. It is largely from these notes that accurate tempi can be allocated.

One difference in the “new school” is that some works are quite a lot faster than interpretations by the likes of Klemperer and Karajan. When it comes to the symphonies, the higher tempi makes them rather more challenging for orchestras, and this makes sense to me because Beethoven was after all a virtuoso. To play his violin concerto is among the greatest achievements, sonatas are among the most challenging – should we not then expect that his symphonies would be equally demanding? By Czerny’s indication, the symphonies could be interpreted almost as concerti for orchestra.

Gueller’s tempi for the four movements of this symphony were very close the only recording in the Fine Music Radio library that I will play: the Zinman, with the Tonhale Orchestra, Zurich. Both Gueller and Zinman give a decidedly Czerniesque interpretation that demands virtuoso from the instrumentalists, and fortunately, we have an amazing orchestra, who rose to the challenge with accuracy and synchronism. If Gueller’s recording with the CTPO were available in the Fine Music Radio library, I would have two to choose from!

References:
http://www.twopianists.com/Catalogue/TP1039053.html
http://www.petermartens.co.za/recordings.html
http://thebeethovenproject.com/how-fast-shall-we-play/

 

Haydn, Shostakovich, Respighi – Natalia Lavrova, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO #ConcertReview

Haydn, Shostakovich, Respighi – Natalia Lavrova, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 5 November 2015
Conductor: Bernhard Gueller

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Haydn – Symphony no.83
Voiced mostly for strings, the Haydn symphony reminded us that in sheer numbers, strings make up the heart of the orchestra, poetic arguments aside. Their performance was synchronous, dexterous, and smooth, identifying them by any comparison as world class performers. An amazing ppp section by violas in the second movement faded into the tiniest silken thread, accentuating the ensuing fff entry – Haydn has a reputation for surprises. There is a skill that gifted performers have, of knowing how to use the reverberation of the hall, and waiting for the echo in a pause to disappear into the ceiling before continuing. An outstanding example is Maria du Toit playing the Francaix clarinet concerto earlier this year, and last Thursday, Gueller played the CTPO in the same exquisite fashion. The many pauses and dynamic variations of this symphony draw attention to the acoustics of the City Hall – a sticky wicket – but this writer and our previous visiting conductor Perry So are two among those who find the acoustics atmospheric and expansive when interpreted correctly, as Du Toit and Gueller are able to do.

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David Thompson, Natalia Lavrova, Bernhard Gueller

Front row: concert master Suzanne Martens, David Thompson, Natalia Lavrova, and Bernhard Gueller after the Shostakovich

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Shostakovich – Concerto for Piano and string Orchestra (with trumpet)
Piano: Natalia Lavrova
Trumpet: David Thompson

Lavrova’s strength and speed are excellent, as is her accuracy and technical grasp of the many rapid rhythmic passages in this work, often featuring running octaves that would terrify even the most performance-hardened pianist. Her balance is graceful, allowing the instrumental soloists enough space to be heard, and mastering the frequent ensemble passages with trumpet. The dance macabre second movement was interpreted with an exiting blend of fearless modernism: stark, naked, vulnerable, and awkward; and intuitive romanticism: sensitive, gentle, and empathetic. This gave her concerto an enjoyable and exciting feel, with the ever-present awareness of timing – every bar in total synch with Gueller and the orchestra. The tempo change in the 3rd movement happened flawlessly and exhilaratingly, Lavrova delivering the composer’s sudden bursts of frenetic scurrying with effortless calm, while Gueller kept amazing balance into the cadenza and finale – a level 10 performance – quite astonishing.

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Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

The Cape Town Philharmonic after Respighi’s Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome, with Bernhard Gueller

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Respighi – Fountains of Rome; Pines of Rome
If the performance of just one work could summarise and communicate the value of classical music; the reason why government should support symphony orchestras; the motivation behind the drive to secure and dedicate the City Hall to the exclusive performance and exhibition of serious music and art; and, heavens be praised, the motivation for city funding to maintain the magnificent City Hall organ, then Gueller’s performance with the CTPO of Respighi’s Fountains and Pines could in the very near future become the flagship in making classical music more accessible, without any loss of integrity. The performance was so deeply enchanting that it seemed enough to activate the cybernetically sterilised imaginations of the present school-bound generation, and inspire them to take up an instrument. If the masses are inspired, the government must provide, or fall.

There are far more important symphonic works that benchmark the evolution of classical music, but last Thursday’s performance of Respighi’s Fountains and Pines achieved one of those rare and phenomenal moments that span the hectares between the deeply academic minority, and the sugar-coated Disney-glazed majority. It was exciting and enticing – sensual strings, magical harps, glistening glockenspiels, and that unmistakable rumbling power of the City Hall organ that shakes the very floorboards. Who in that room could not have been inspired to ensure the continuation of the CTPO?

I was very glad that the two pieces, Fountains and then Pines, were performed consecutively. After a short break we were plunging back into the magic, even more fantastical than before. The list of technical accomplishments within every section of the orchestra would be tedious to read after the fact – (you had to be there…) although exception can be made for Daniel Prozesky, (clarinet) with his exceptional control and lyricism. The overall effect: mind-blowing! A resplendent partner to the softer “Fountains”, “Pines” was a glorious continuation that demonstrated the world class ability of the Cape Town Philharmonic. Gueller somehow always manages to make his work sound larger than life without breaking any of the rules. I for one believe that conducting is in many ways the humblest of vocations, and yet one that demands the highest level of intuitive skill and technical knowledge of every instrument, so that the magnitude of the work is more so revealed, than created. To my ear, this ethic manifests throughout Gueller’s work. The fourth movement emerged from a bridge section in which Respighi’s original nightingale recordings were digitally sampled from shellac record using modern software, and then played from the laptop of sound engineer genius Marek Pinski. A riveting development ensued, beginning with a march from timpani and double basses, joined by harps and horns, as more trumpeters walked in from off-stage, two more trombones appeared and joined in with the deluge of strings and winds, and the roar of the organ and bass drum … and Gueller in the centre of the climbing vortex with his baton, stirring and coaxing the maelstrom ever higher and deeper and wider … unbelievably achieving a crescendo from somewhere – I don’t know where he found any more volume – to deliver a coda that one felt as much in the bones, as heard in the ears, and both sensations were transcendental and sublime. This performance will not easily be forgotten!

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Maestro Gueller returns next Thursday with

cellist Maria Kliegel and the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra:

Dvorak – Midday Witch
Bloch – Schelomo Hebraic Rhapsody
Bruch – Kol Nidrei
Beethoven – Symphony no. 7

 

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