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French flair is in season

What's On - Durban

Michael Green

Music with a French accent and links with America provided the programme for the third concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s spring season, in the Durban City Hall.

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Pallavi Mahidhara provided the high point of the French programme at the KZNPO spring season performance

The high point was a brilliant performance by Pallavi Mahidhara of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. This exemplified the French-American connection. Ravel, who died in 1937 aged 62, was the quintessential Frenchman, dapper and cool.

He was very interested in American jazz, and his concerto has many jazz rhythms and harmonies. Pallavi the pianist was born in the United States of Indian parents. She has played in Durban before, and the fine impression she created then was vividly confirmed as she played Ravel’s beautiful, vivid and quite spectacular concerto.

This work bristles with technical difficulties, and the slender and elegant young pianist overcame them with aplomb and confident calmness. And she conveyed a truly poetic feeling in the many lyrical passages. An exciting performance that brought prolonged applause at the end.

The orchestra were in fine form, here and elsewhere. They were under the baton of Arjan Tien, who comes from the Netherlands and has been a guest conductor with the KZNPO for the past 18 years.

The concert opened with a short symphony by Joseph Boulogne, who was born in 1745 on the West Indian island of Guadeloupe, then as now a French colony. His father was a rich French farmer. His mother was a slave from West Africa.

Boulogne became a prominent violinist and composer in Paris, where he was known as Le Mozart Noir, the black Mozart. His music, judging by this symphony, is vigorous, melodious, attractive, and the composer obviously deserves the recent revival of interest in his work after many years of neglect.

The French-American theme was continued with a lively performance of music from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera Les Indes Galantes, the gallant or amorous Indians. Like most Frenchmen of his time (1683-1764) he had rather rudimentary ideas about people in faraway lands; his “Indians’ are from Persia, Turkey, Peru and North America. The music, however, is delightful.

Finally the orchestra played, with great zest and skill, Haydn’s outstanding Symphony No. 83 in G minor. The French connection here is that this is one of six so-called Paris symphonies that Haydn (an Austrian) wrote between 1775 and 1785 for performance in Paris.

The audiences there thought that the rhythmic devices of the first movement resembled the clucking of hens, so they nicknamed the work “La Poule”, The Hen. A trivial title for a masterwork, but no matter. It is a typically imaginative and invigorating symphony by one of the greatest composers.

Once again the concert was interrupted by the appearance of a radio announcer to jolly things along in the manner of a chat show. I don’t blame the person concerned, who was doing the job he’s paid for, but the whole idea is misplaced and inappropriate for a symphony concert. – Artsmart.co.za

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