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.


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.


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


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.


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”)


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


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.


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


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.


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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