Peter Martens, Bernhard Gueller – Shaun Crawford Dvořák Tchaikovsky #ConcertReview

Peter Martens, Bernhard Gueller – Shaun Crawford Dvořák Tchaikovsky #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Bernhard Gueller
Soloist: Peter Martens
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 16 June 2016

Shaun Crawford – Overture
The opening is enticing – flutes trill enchantingly over a soft bed of strings that blushes in Debussiesque tones. The pastoral air is thick with magic and the promise of exciting adventures to come. A show-piece of Crawford’s talent as a film and symphonic composer, Overture is a resolutely successful journey full of optimism and idealism. It was originally conceived to inspire young musicians, and as such it was well placed on National Youth Day. Crawford encourages international film-makers to take advantage of the Rand by completing their scores in Cape Town, with our world class musicians and production facilities. Examples of his work can be found on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/sdalecrawford

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Peter Martens, Bernhard Gueller, Andy Wilding, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview

Peter Martens and Bernhard Gueller after performing the Dvořák cello concerto with the CTPO

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Dvořák – Cello Concerto
Martens has an innate ability to communicate through his instrument. Far beyond technique, he plays “with the blood”. The composer’s intentions seem to make sense to him as a fluent language spoken by his cello, expressing states of being, emotions, states of mind, thoughts, and sensations. His performance was an exploration of the mind and soul of the concerto, delivered in the sheer beauty of his phrasing and clear understanding of line.

Beneath all this, Martens walks on the solid ground of polished fundamentals, which shine in astonishing octave runs, soaring projection over the orchestra at full gallop, and hummingbird trills that hover for a while and then shoot off to another chord note. His pronunciation of staccato consonants and legato vowels is effortless. Vibrato is like a column of incense smoke – beginning strait and undulating as it accelerates.

Dramatic colours emanated from Gueller’s pallet, and the CTPO responded with distinction. The full tutti entry in the adagio was sudden and frightening, immaculate, totally in unison. Alluring solos by concert master Suzanne Martens and Caroline Prozesky horn.

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Bernhard Gueller, Andy Wilding, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview

Bernhard Gueller’s final upbeat of the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony with the CTPO

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Tchaikovsky – Symphony no. 5
Over the last two decades of this writer’s experience, the manner of applauding at the City Hall has passed through a number of behavioural changes. In the mid 1990s it was fashionable to stamp ones feet while clapping, almost like a drum roll. The effect was rather a pleasing roar, above which could be heard applause and one or two whistles. In the last two years (the duration of this review) the City Hall audience has been reserved to clapping and occasionally standing up. That mould was gleefully smashed after the symphony last Thursday, by elated cheering and a full house standing ovation for Maestro Gueller and the CTPO.

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Bernhard Gueller, Andy Wilding, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview

A full house standing ovation for Maestro Gueller and the CTPO after Tchaikovsky 5

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Conducting from memory, Gueller delivered an inspired, beautifully phrased performance that portrayed a sensitive and intelligent interpretation. He is a master of dynamics, seeming to nod or shake his head to indicate for a section to play piano or forte, with stunning effect. The composer’s beloved wind section featured excellent solos, and horns were exceptional in their pianissimo triplets. Exemplary ensemble playing by principles Brandon Phillips bassoon, Sergei Burdukov oboe, and Gabriele von Dürckheim flute. Mesmerising solos by Caroline Prozesky horn and Daniel Prozesky clarinet.

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Shaun Crawford, Louis Heyneman, Bernhard Gueller, Peter Martens, Andy Wilding

Shaun Crawford, Louis Heyneman, Bernhard Gueller, and Peter Martens after the concert

Next week the CTPO returns with Conductor Daniel Boico and pianist François du Toit:

 

Christo Jankowitz – Revelation

Schumann – Piano Concerto

Saint-Saëns – Symphony no.3 featuring Erik Dippenaar organ

 

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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

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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

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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More images here:

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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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Joshua Bell Is Magic And His Violin Is A Wizard #ConcertReview

Joshua Bell Is Magic And His Violin Is A Wizard #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 3, Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4 “Italian”, Tchaikovsky Vioin Concerto

Joshua Bell, Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra
Thursday 29 January 2015, City Hall

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Joshua Bell, Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Joshua Bell and Bernhard Gueller after the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

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Art without patrons is poverty. Struggling artists compromise art with industry – which is fine as long as we remember Marcel Duchamp: “Industry without art is brutality.”

A quick Google of the top five orchestras in the world and their sponsors reveals that with the exception of the Vienna Philharmonic, all rely on patronage: The Royal Goncertgebouw – ING group and Unilever; Berlin Philharmonic – Deutsche Bank; London Philharmonic – Arts Council England; Chicago Symphony – Bank of America. Fortunately, we are blessed with our own industrious patrons of the arts in Cape Town, who understand the value in supporting the continuation of many art forms, and many talented artists in our city. Naspers, a Cape Town based 101 year-old media group that includes OLX and Media24, is a principle supporter of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, and it is thanks to their tenacious patronage that we were able to appreciate this once-in-a-life-time spectacle in our City Hall over two nights last week.

After the speeches, I hope I was not the only one with an irrational expectation for Joshua Bell’s entrance, only to remind myself that he was only coming out after the interval! But such was the electric atmosphere in that hall, and the suspense extended into Leonore 3, Beethoven’s largo tempo seeming to tease us, accentuating the anticipation. Gueller rode the tension like a wave, keeping his customary pace and when the theme burst it was well articulated by synchronous strings. This work features the invention of the offstage trumpet – what an ingenuous idea! I’v always wondered though – does he still have to wear a tux?

The orchestra matched up to its usual high quality with good clean entries by horns and impressive virtuosity. Beethoven wrote very little that was not virtuosic even for his orchestras, and Gueller’s exciting tempo made this work a delicious aperitif for what was to come. The orchestra’s virtuosity continued with the “Italian”, beginning with a correctly delightful pounce, and continuing the confidence-inspiring tempo that maintained anticipation and built to a thrilling coda, just as Rodney Trudgeon promised in his program notes.

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Joshua Bell, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Four standing ovations for Joshua Bell’s Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

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When Bell began to play, it became overwhelmingly evident with each passing bar that the sound I was hearing was unlike any sound I have ever heard before. Somewhere between Perlman and my imagination of how the Tchaikovsky should sound, my animation was suspended. Such incredible soft alluring tones and runs that were miraculously clear even over the full orchestra – such a sound! At the time I was incapable of comprehension and it was some time before my mind could understand that over 300 years, Bell’s uniquely crafted 1713 Gibson Stradivarius violin has compressed under the tension of the strings (so one theory goes) to produce a quality of tone and volume that no violin craftsman has since been able to match. Hearing a legendary work of art performing in the hands of an extremely gifted and expressive interpreter, I am now convinced that Joshua Bell is magic, and his violin is a wizard. His cadenza made time stand still, and yet it seemed to be over so soon – How many days were we glued to our seats in the City Hall, hypnotised?

Occasionally I came to, and noticed his eye contact with the winds or brass, and that although he is an extremely charismatic and emotive player, Bell had a way of staying in touch with Gueller and the orchestra. Usually this is more noticeable in chamber groups and I always appreciate how Camerata Tinta Barocca stays connected with eye contact. I find this essential for any group of musicians to stay in time, even when they are playing with a conductor and a score. When this happens, the music becomes enchanting, and the orchestra becomes the immaculate cloud on which the soloist floats, taking the audience with him.

Technically, the concerto was one of the top performances of all time. Many virtuoso composers include sections that play with a little 4 note pattern like a finger exercise, where the orchestra waits for the soloist to reach the fingers’ limit of acceleration. In moments like this, few performers these days can surprise their audience, elicit gasps of amazement, and earn themselves the title of “virtuoso” – Bell is one such performer, and he does so with velvet sensitivity.

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Joshua Bell in Cape Town

Joshua Bell about to perform his encore: Vieuxtemps Yankee Doodle variations

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His encore was the Yankee Doodle variations by Henri Vieuxtemps. I enjoyed the reference to America, and only later discovered that Bell is in fact descended from Vieuxtemps’ teaching lineage: Vieuxtemps taught Eugène Ysaÿe, who taught Josef Gingold, who taught Bell. The piece is well beyond the realm of normal violin technique, in fact Robert Schumann, a friend of Vieuxtemps, compared him to Niccolò Paganini.

Well, patrons of the arts, Naspers set a pretty high bar! Who’s next?

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Full size photos on Pinterest, plus 12 more!

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Joshua Bell’s Violin:

“Stradivari crafted 1,116 string instruments during his lifetime, 1646 to 1737. Of those, 540 violins, 50 cellos and 12 violas survive today.” As you may imagine, the story of Bell’s Gibson Stradivarius deserves a read:
http://www.joshuabell.com/story-his-violin

Or: