Bryan Wallick Arjan Tien – Britten Prokofiev Mendelssohn #CTPO #ConcertReview

Bryan Wallick Arjan Tien – Britten Prokofiev Mendelssohn #CTPO #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Arjan Tien
Soloist: Bryan Wallick
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 19 May 2016

Britten – Passacaglia from Peter Grimes
Tien’s second performance with the CTPO this season reaffirmed his style as easy to follow with clear tempo. At times his movements are minimal, which is a great compliment to the orchestra as it implies that they listen to each other for timing. This minimalism also frees up the conductor to express the nuances and dynamics of his interpretation, to which the CTPO were highly responsive. A dark Victorian scene emerged, featuring Paula Gabriel’s sonorous melancholy viola, and haunting celeste by Joanna Majksner-Pinska, peppered with precise percussion.


Bryan Wallick, #CTPO, Arjan Tien, Andy Wilding

Bryan Wallick with the CTPO and Arjan Tien after the Prokofiev Piano Concerto no.2

Prokofiev – Piano Concerto no.2
There is an understated kind of charm about this concerto. Beginning rather ordinarily, the work is embalmed with Prokovief’s unmistakable mystical logic. We find ourselves in the most unexpected places as if by magic, and somehow arrive back in the tonic. Wallick’s interpretation of this musical sorcery was Renoiresque – a hazy impression that on closer inspection reveals articulate precision. His playing was relaxed, contemplative, and very clean, portraying a healthy blend of confidence and intuitive accuracy. His fingers have a way of finding the right notes. As enchanting as the first movement is, the cadenza does rather stand out as the reason why any fiery pianist would perform the work. Growing in layers, the developments on the first subject become progressively intense, each new layer seeming to be the ultimate hight of extremism, only to reveal another even higher pinnacle. Time suspended as Wallick’s left hand plucked melody out from between the dangerous moving parts of his right hand arpeggios. With increasing conviction, it dawned on the audience that we were in the presence of a remarkable pianist, who plays like a Tai Chi master – organic and fluid, surging and ebbing, gathering and centering, accurate and intense.

The third movement Intermezzo was phenomenal – a magical macabre slow scary march from the CTPO, great interpretation by Maestro Tien.


Arjan Tien, #CTPO, Andy Wilding

Arjan Tien and the CTPO after the Mendelssohn with stereo double-basses!!

Mendelssohn – Symphony no. 3 “Scottish”
In the first half, Tien positioned the orchestra in the same way as the previous week, where the cellos and second violins swapped places so that the second violins were on his right. The double basses were placed on his left, behind the first violins. This of course changes the stereo effect completely and I enjoyed this very much, since the violin parts are panned left and right. Having the double-basses on the left, moves the bass into stereo, as opposed to being panned right. After interval, however, the four double-basses were balanced two on each side, as there is no bass brass in the symphony. Talking to two of the double-bassists afterwards confirmed my suspicion, that separating the section would present a challenge for them to stay together, but their timing in the performance was unaffected. The stereo effect was glorious – surround-sound double-bass!

Some would deny much of a difference to the sound on the grounds that, in a concert hall such as this, the sound from the stage bounces off all the surfaces, and by the time it gets to our ears, it’s all mashed up. It certainly is true that sound is shaped by the room, and reaches our ears from many different directions. Was there really any difference? Was my visual perception influencing my auditory perception? From my seat in the back row of the balcony, I conducted an experimented. I closed my eyes and listened, I heard violins playing on my left, opened my eyes and saw the first violins playing, and the second violins resting. The stereo effect is amazing. In the adagio, Mendelssohn’s theme was sublimely bowed by first violins on the left, with pizzicato accompaniment by seconds on the right, like a panorama photograph. Exceptional solos by Daniel Prozesky clarinet and Simon Ball bassoon.

The CTPO returns next season – Winter is coming.

Maestros Bernhard Gueller and Peter Martens

Shaun Crawford Overture
Dvořák Cello Concerto
Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 5.

Crawford is UCT, hear some of his work here.


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.


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!


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.


Conrad van Alphen, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

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

Concert Review: Schubert, Beethoven – Friends of Orchestral Music Soirée

Concert Review: Schubert, Beethoven – Friends of Orchestral Music Soirée

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Magdalene Minnaar, Maria Tien-Du Toit, Francois du Toit, Patrick Goodwin, Paula Gabriel, Peter Martens, Roxane Steffen

Old Mutual House, Sunday 8 March 2015

Other works included Beethoven's "Appassionata" and Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, with Patrick Goodwin, Paula Gabriel, Peter Martens, and Roxane Steffen

Shepherd on the Rock from left: Francois du Toit, Magdalene Minnaar, Maria Tien-Du Toit


Schubert – Shepherd on the Rock
Magdalene Minnaar (soprano), Maria Tien-Du Toit (clarinet), Francois du Toit (piano)
The alluring clarinet and piano opening was magical, instantly transcending thought, warmly welcoming one’s imagination, the perfect aperitif. Magdalene Minnaar’s soprano was exquisite, introducing the most beautiful golden thread into the sound. She has stunning dynamic range in her phrasing and amazing control at ppp. The Lied was composed after a request from a friend of Schubert who wanted a showpiece that would demonstrate the emotional range of her voice, but Schubert’s clarinet part is equally impressive. The trio was a jewel – a duet between two of our finest performers masterfully supported by one of our finest pianists.

Beethoven – piano sonata No.23 in F minor (“Appassionata”)
Francois du Toit (piano)
This work surely ranks among the most challenging in the repertoire. Both technically and emotionally highly demanding, it must be a something like summiting Mt. Everest: never easy, no matter how many times you do it! With Beethovenian polarities of amiable reason and dogmatic fatality, du Toit climbed this pinnacle of sonatas tenaciously and with good pedal control, allowing his sound to accumulate and then suddenly disperse like a vanishing cloud. He demonstrated an incredible presence of mind which can only be attributed to a lifetime of dedication to performing professionally. His second movement was sublime, and the third embodied all the tension and agitation of a 34-year-old Beethoven that had us glued to our seats.


Other works included Beethoven's "Appassionata" and Schubert's "Shepherd on the Rock, with Magdalene Minnaar, Maria Tien-Du Toit, and Francois du Toit

Trout Quintet from left: Patrick Goodwin, page turner, Francois du Toit, Paula Gabriel, Peter Martens, Roxane Steffen


Schubert – Piano Quintet in A Major (“The Trout”)
Francois du Toit (piano), Patrick Goodwin (violin), Paula Gabriel (viola), Peter Martens (cello), Roxane Steffen (double bass)
I enjoyed the sumptuous rich sound of the room – the acoustics held the bass better than larger venues while leaving the higher frequencies unchanged, so that one heard very much more of the sound than usual. This was especially noticeable in the fourth movement, where the theme and variations on Schubert’s Lied “Die Forelle” gives each instrumentalist a chance to shine. I was reminded of the genius of the composer, uniquely placing a double bass in his piano quintet, where a second violin is the norm, and this is ingenious because it frees up the cello to perform delicious singing melodies in its tenor register. We really are spoilt by the talent in Cape Town’s musicians! The quintet was seamlessly synchronous, such a gorgeous lullaby in the second movement, an exceptional performance!


Many of the performers from last week’s soirée are involved in the Stellenbosch Woordfees, details here: