Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, CTPO, Conrad van Alphen – Mozart, Vieutemps, Dvořák Concert Review

Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, CTPO, Conrad van Alphen – Mozart, Vieutemps, Dvořák Concert Review

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Conrad van Alphen
Soloist: Nikita Boriso-Glebsky
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 5 May 2016

Mozart – Symphony no. 38 “Prague”
An evening billed as “Perfect Prague” prompted the thought that music not only transcends time, but also space. It was easy to believe that our Cape Town Concert Hall, right at the end of Africa’s cul-de-sac, was somehow in the same place as those halls in which Mozart stood. Van Alphen began with a stately, lofty adagio, to parallel the finest performances of this work, refreshing into an allegro which quickened the pulse and hit all the right spots. I was reminded how great conductors allow a skilled orchestra to play as a chamber group, and encourage them to listen to each other for timing. This must be very liberating – the conductor is then free to indicate interpretation and expression, instead of being weighed down by the mechanical task of time-keeping. I was so impressed by his minimal style that showed the CTPO as world class orchestra, that I thought the first movement deserved applause, however inappropriate.

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Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, Conrad van Alphen, CTPO

Nikita Boriso-Glebsky Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto no. 4 about to play his encore “Furies” from Ysaÿe Violin Sonata no. 2

Vieuxtemps – Violin Concerto no. 4
Seeing Nikita Boriso-Glebsky performing this work, the first thing that comes across is his amazing sensitivity – his opening note appears like a mirage from another dimension. Then follows his profound demonstration of technique that enables an articulate, emotionally intuitive interpretation. A hidden jewel in the violin repertoire, the concerto was spectacularly presented in velvety romantic serenades and sparkling precision-cut facets. With seamlessly flowing bow technique and exceptional speed, Boriso-Glebsky trails a string of the highest international awards available. However, his full-house standing ovation was earned through nothing less than a spectacular performance and fluid synergy with the CTPO under conductor van Alphen. The ensemble in the second movement with the celli was sublime, and the scherzo-trio was blistering – twice! Belgian virtuoso Vieuxtemps repeats the belief-defying first section, as if to tempt fate and prove that it wasnt fluke the first time! And proof we certainly had! It seems that the lesson in impossibility was indeed repeatable.

And it continued with an encore by Vieuxtemps’ student: Ysaÿe Violin Sonata no. 2, 4th movement – “Furies”. But fury we had not, just wide eyes, stunned clapping, and modest attempts at comprehension. This night will be remembered!

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Conrad van Alphen, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Conrad van Alphen after the Dvořák Symphony no. 7 with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Dvořák – Symphony no. 7
Dark winds and strings opened majestically and forebodingly, in what many people told me afterwards is their favourite Dvořák symphony. Van Alphen’s alert energy and awareness was in-suppressible, achieving a masterful blend of syncopation between parts. This was notable in the ecstatic burst of the major theme at the end of the first movement – well done horns and violins! Listening to a performance like this, I could sit back and enjoy world class solos by the CTPO principles, Gabriele von Dürckheim flute, Daniel Prozersky clarinet, and Sergei Burdukov oboe. Van Alphen demonstrated the answer to a fundamental question – What really is conducting? What’s it for? Everything is written in the music, accelerandi, diminuendi, fortissimo, piano, why a conductor? With only minimal tempo indication, his movements for the most part convey his interpretation of nuance, flavour, texture, subtle changes of crispness or sweetness that could never be included in a score. Although the composer has long left this world, I found this performance fresh and original, and very much alive.

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Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, Conrad van Alphen and Louis Heyneman

Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, Conrad van Alphen and Louis Heyneman after the concert

Next week the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra returns with pianist Melvyn Tan conducted by Arjan Tien:

Puccini – Capriccio Sinfonico
Mendelssohn – Piano concerto no.1
Brahms – Symphony no.2

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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

François Du Toit, Victor Yampolsky – Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle Part 1

François Du Toit, Victor Yampolsky – Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle Part 1

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Victor Yampolsky
Soloist: François Du Toit
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Wednesday 24 February 2016

We are extremely fortunate to have amongst our academia, performer and Professor of Piano François Du Toit. He is an amazing artist – a master of all the mesmerism and mystery that may be enticed from his instrument. These two concerts were to celebrate his birthday, his fee generously sponsored by Le Lude of Franschhoek (cellar, restaurant, and guest villa). This is exactly the patronage that our beloved classical music needs in order to thrive, and the result was an unparalleled opportunity for the Cape Town audience to attend the most important piano concerto cycle in history.

For the casual music lover, it was a beautiful journey through the development of Beethoven’s composing style, which can also be seen as the development of Romanticism in music. For the academics it was a two-day field trip. The inspiration of many later works can be heard in this concerto cycle – in the cadenza of the second concerto the dotted rhythm of the Charleston is perceptible – (Beethoven later used this rhythm in the second movement of his piano sonata Op 111.) and in the Rondo of the fourth concerto we can hear the idea for the opening chords of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.

Attending this cycle, one has the time to notice the little things about Beethoven’s composing style that made him different from his “Classical” peers. The Rondo of the first concerto for example, features a folk melody – an idea that later became the nationalist spirit of many great romantic composers. Of all the recent concerts in the City Hall that should be broadcast to outer space to let the aliens know about Earth Human music, these two concerts are my choice.

François Du Toit, Victor Yampolsky, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Final downbeat of Piano Conerto No. 5

As the First Piano Concerto opened with sensitive winds, warm double basses and celli, and a comfortable crescendo into the first subject, there was a strong cent of Mozart, and a fascination with the inevitable development of passion and romance, like the knocking of fate. Conductor Yampolsky brilliantly managed the orchestra’s frequent tricky entries on the fourth beat, expertly balanced with Du Toit’s clean technique and beautiful dynamics. The cadenza was as profound in it’s moments of breathtaking suspense as it was technically radiant, phrasing and interpretation making perfect sense throughout.

For me, the Adagio was the highlight of the Second Piano Concerto. There was a slight sense of hedonism in being allowed to float rather decadently through the greatest composer’s sweetest dreams. I had the feeling of drifting in a most agreeable experience that I knew would not be over any time soon.

Progressively, the concerti become more virtuosic and challenging for the orchestra, and by the Fourth Piano Concerto, parts are frequently scored in semiquavers for whole sections. Celli and double basses performed outstandingly on such occasions, running and leaping synchronously. The violas had a most beautiful moment – Beethoven’s sonorous mezzos playing just a few bars in two parts – a show stealer. Yampolsky kept respectable tempi and a very tidy ship, particularly with the off-beat quavers echoing the piano in the third movement. Du Toit demonstrated stunning control, plucking melodies from complicated patterns. His pedal technique is incredible – like the focus on a camera, he lifts the sustain and refocuses during trills and runs, giving his performance a polish that I have rarely heard before. He played the entire concert from memory. The audience would not let him leave the stage, they were noisier and happier than I’ve heard them for a very long time.

Cape Town is indeed very fortunate to have a resident performer and Professor such as François Du Toit.

Louis Heneman, François Du Toit

Louis Heneman and François Du Toit after the concert

 

Read Part 2 of François Du Toit’s Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle here.

François Du Toit, Victor Yampolsky – Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle Part 2

François Du Toit, Victor Yampolsky – Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle Part 2

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Victor Yampolsky
Soloist: François Du Toit
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 25 February 2016

Prometheus
The second half of François Du Toit’s birthday party began with a synchronous dominant seventh, leading into a beautiful theme from Beethoven’s immortal beloved winds. Conductor Yampolsky’s perfectionism, precise communication, and exciting interpretation secured this overture as another shining example of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s high calibre. The second subject in the violins was crisp and refreshing like crunchy lettuce. All the string parts are technically demanding, and were well performed to the virtuosic standard of the composer.

Victor Yampolsky, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Victor Yampolsky and the CTPO after performing the Prometheus Overture

Throughout the stunning opening movement of the Third Piano Concerto I could not take my eyes off the keys, watching clean runs, accentuated phrase endings, and passionate legato melodies. The cadenza suspended reason – the trills seemed automated, like the sorcerers apprentice commanding the broom. Yampolsky brought the orchestra into synchronous entries like a single breathing being, voicing a beautiful fugue in the 3rd movement between celli, violas, violins, and double basses and winds, each part sounding as one, a sublime quartet.

The Fifth Piano Concerto commenced in all the regalia and sweeping majesty of it’s epithet Emperor. Du Toit reigned absolute, with such precision of emotive dynamics, like pristine diamonds dropping from the piano. The audience was free to wonder how Beethoven composed this work after becoming completely deaf. Were we the first audience to wonder if perhaps he was able to “hear” better without the distractions of earthly sound? Perhaps only because of his loss of hearing, was he able to engage in the most profound conversations with the cosmos, and take down the dictation of the music he was hearing in that state of consciousness. Certainly, his lofty first movement theme in the high register of the piano had the audience suspended as if by threads from Heaven. Do we hear in Beethoven’s deafness, the Music of the Spheres?

The adagio was exquisite – each note a drop of liquid gold, sustained by stunning control from the horns, holding that mystical space between the 2nd and 3rd movement – and what a finale! A world-class dialogue between piano and orchestra, amazingly balanced. One of the notes I made during the performance read: “How can one instrument match so many? Beethoven!” Clearly I was a little over-excited, but it wasnt just me – an international swallow I spoke to excitedly told me that he would call it “The Event of the Season”.

François Du Toit, Victor Yampolsky, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

During François Du Toit’s standing ovation, the CTPO struck up “Happy Birthday”, joined by the audience

 

Next Thursday the CTPO returns with conductor Omri Hadari for the Jewish Community Gala:

Bernstein – Candide Overture

Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue

Rachmaninov – Symphony no. 2

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