Nettle and Markham Mendelssohn Shostakovich Omri Hadari CTPO #ConcertReview

Nettle and Markham Mendelssohn Shostakovich Omri Hadari CTPO #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Omri Hadari
Soloist: Nettle and Markham
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 10 November 2016

Program:

Mendelssohn Ruy Blas Overture, op. 95
Mendelssohn Double Piano Concerto in E
Shostakovich Symphony no. 5 in D minor, op.47

This concert honored Maestro David Tidboald, congratulating him on his 90th birthday. Tidboald’s contribution to the industry in terms of infrastructure is unparalleled. He established and conducted the KZN Philharmonic and the CAPAB and NAPAC orchestras. He also founded two major youth music festivals that provide vital performing experience to young instrumentalists, and prepares them for orchestra playing. With celebrations for Ruth Allen’s 90th the previous week at the Gala Concert (and again the following week on the 17th, which was her actual birthday) members of the city’s classical musical community experienced a trans-cultural custom as old as stone: honoring its elders. Our modern lives are so unrecognizable from their roots in pre-industrialised, pre-nuclear, tribal, socialist civilisation, that moments like these of gratitude for our tribal elders are strangely reassuring: In the throes of global madness, we are maintaining our humanity.

The overture revealed Hadari’s clear time-keeping and demanding expectation from the CTPO to play at the standard of the best orchestras in the world, to which his conducting style is accustomed. The result was a virtuosic performance with exceptional work from the strings. His outstanding control of dynamics was immediately discernible, always keeping us on our toes, and always assuring enough potential energy for climaxes to explode wonderfully.

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Nettle and Markham one second after completing the Mendelssohn double concerto in E, with Omri Hadari and the CTPO

The concerto (MWV 5) performed by Nettle and Markham has a tremendous history, beautifully told by David Nettle in the program. Mendelssohn composed it in 1823 aged 14, but revised it later on. The concerto remained in a state of flux until his early death and was not published, hence it does not have an opus number, but a Mendelssohn-Werkverzeichnis number or MWV, German for Mendelssohn Work Index. The MWV was established because the composer did not keep up with his admin – He cataloged only 72 works with opus numbers, and then died, leaving 121 works to be added posthumously. Several versions of the concerto exist, in various states of development, and in all the confusion Nettle and Markham found it best to create their own edition, favoring the original 1823 version.

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Nettle and Markham with Omri Hadari, Mendelssohn double concerto in E

Their edition is scintillating, playful, and wise – all our favorite reasons to listen to Mendelssohn. As entertaining to see as it was to hear, watching the runs and witty exchanges was simply delightful. Nettle and Markham are extremely well matched, sharing a flawless technique and shapely sense of phrase. Repetitions are never the same, but explore a different interpretation of line, changing the meaning of the sentence even though the words are the same. The exciting acellerando into the coda of the first movement had everyone on the edge of their seats. The CTPO was outstanding – lively soft lyrical violins and a horn entry in the Adagio that was dolce de leche.

Shostakovich 5th is a treat for the romantic music lover, an explicit emotional expression of sarcastic submission and yearning for freedom under tyrannical rule. Hadari’s dynamism is ideally suited to such dramatic works as this. Many people experience great romantic works as a journey in the imagination, where the music tells the story. Hadari’s mastery articulates the subtleties of his interpretation, like the terrifying power of Stalinist Russia: a dread march that develops a splinter motive of resistance and hope from the trumpets. This leads to a cacophonic anticlimax, like the momentary appearance of the cold sun on a freezing Siberian evening. After the trumpets had stated their protest, Hadari’s Stalin marched on without so much as blinking. Political propaganda swallowed that trumpet’s protest, as if it had never happened.

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Omri Hadari congratulating concertmaster Patrick Goodwin and the CTPO after the Shostakovich 5th symphony

The show stealer for me was concertmaster Patrick Goodwin’s awkwardly pretty solo in the midst of a macabre, military ball, a paradox beautifully illustrated by Hadari’s skill. The CTPO painted these musical pictures in world class standards. String technique was astounding, annunciating a perfectly synchronous pianonissimo pizzicato, with accellerando! Stunning ensemble playing from winds, bassoons expertly handing the oddly high register. Beautiful solos by Gabriele von Durckheim flute, Daniel Prozesky clarinet, and Caroline Prozesky horne. As the first movement drew to a close, the melody seamlessly passed from flute (von Durckheim) to picolo (Bridget Wilson) to violin (Patrick Goodwin) – an outstanding moment of magic.

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Standing ovation for Hadari and the CTPO after the Shostakovich 5th symphony

Hadari’s demands on the orchestra are relentless, continuously sculpting the balance and tempo, and insisting on absolute precision. The results that he produces are spectacular and remind us why we attend classical concerts. Pressure makes diamonds – If sound is anything to go by, playing under Hadari is extremely good for the CTPO!

David Nettle, Richard Markham, Louis Heyneman, Omri Hadari

From left: David Nettle, Richard Markham, Louis Heyneman, Omri Hadari

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Alexander Ramm, Conrad van Alphen, CTPO – Balakirev, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams

Alexander Ramm, Conrad van Alphen, CTPO – Balakirev, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Conrad van Alphen
Soloist: Alexander Ramm
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 28 April 2016

Balakirev – Tamara
What a seductive entrance to the Autumn Symphony Season! This tone poem is a glistening example of Russian orientalism, beautifully interpreted and performed with succinct entries and excellent control by van Alphen and the CTPO. The orchestra described a certain anxiety on which alluring sensuality uneasily balanced, depicting the dark fetish of the title character. Tamara (from a poem by Mikhail Lermontov) waylays travellers in her tower… and when she tires of their company she kills them and flings their bodies into the River Terek. Van Alphen lead an exciting adventure through the mountains and gorges of the Caucasus – highlights of which were a riveting accelerando into the allegro section – Immaculately synchronous! – and a heart-stopping Arabian dance by Sergei Burdukov and Eugene Trofimczyk (oboe and snare drum), demonstrating incredible control at ppp.

Kudos to the artistic direction of the orchestra, to program a work by the most important, and yet least famous member of “The Five”. Balakirev was the founder and mentor of the Russian nationalist group that included Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Cui, and himself. In the hardly known Tamara, completed in 1882, we hear in many places exact melody patterns and chord progressions of Rimsky-Korsakov’s extremely famous Scheherazade, composed 6 years later in 1888.

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Alexander Ramm, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Conrad van Alphen

Alexander Ramm after the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and Conrad van Alphen

Tchaikovsky – Variations on a Rococo Theme
Both Alexander Ramm and his cello strike an immediate presence on the stage – from the first touch of his bow during tuning, one could hear the  phenomenal tone of his instrument, the simple open fifths resonating and echoing in the ceiling. So it was no immediate surprise that his sound was amazing, with outstanding projection, but his impressive accuracy was somewhat eye-widening. Deceptively easy-going, the first variations merely hint at what is to come. The delightfully virtuosic passages were executed with bumblebee-like nonchalance, beautiful romanticism, and Paganiniesque flare. Through the evolution of variations, Ramm revealed a tasteful, deliberate vibrato, flawless intonation (I reserve this word for exceptional cases) and double stops that took the roof off the pallet. And what beautiful tone! At one point a sustained note right down on the C string could be heard resonating above the full orchestra.

Charismatic, obviously talented, and giving a performance to rival Maria Kliegel last year, Alexander Ramm left us wanting more, dreaming of Elgar, Dvořák, or Schumann in the near future. Let’s hope he likes it here!

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Alexander Ramm, Conrad van Alphen, Louis Heyneman

Alexander Ramm, Conrad van Alphen and Louis Heyneman after the concert

Vaughan Williams – Symphony no. 2 (A London Symphony)
Van Alphen has a visible confidence in the CTPO that speaks of their skill and ability. At times he engages mostly with eye contact and only minimal movement, as if to let them do what they know because they are doing it well. To indicate specific instruction he becomes animated, to which the orchestra is very responsive, and achieves incredible dynamic surges and recessions. Always reserving enough for the climaxes, he has a natural feeling of the full capacity of the orchestra’s sound and technique. The entry into the scherzo was jaw-dropping, a trill in the winds with pizzicato quavers on strings, perfectly synchronous. There were memorable moments by Suzanne Martens and Jana van der Walt (violin and harp), and Paula Gabriel (viola), but the show-stealer for me was Bridget Wilson’s piccolo solo – beautifully interpreted. It’s so lovely to hear the lower register of the piccolo’s voice in such a magical way, so Pan-like.

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Conrad van Alphen, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Conrad van Alphen after the Vaughan Williams Symphony no. 2, with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra