The third concert in the winter season of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra was remarkable in two main ways: a violinist played a complex and difficult concerto at three days’ notice, and later in the programme the orchestra gave one of its finest performances that I can recall.
The violinist was Joanna Frankel, a young American who is described as “guest concert master” of the orchestra. A French violinist, Philippe Graffin, had been due to play Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto Opus 14, but at a very late hour he cancelled because of illness, and Joanna stepped into the breach.
She presumably had the concerto in her repertoire, but to prepare it for concert performance at such short notice must have been a formidable challenge. She rose to it splendidly.
Samuel Barber (1910-1981) was an American composer best known for his beautiful Adagio for Strings, an arrangement of the slow movement of his string quartet.
He was a traditionalist, and his violin concerto, written in 1940, is not aggressively modern. It has plenty of tuneful, romantic music, all played confidently and eloquently by Joanna Frankel, and she achieved a technical tour de force in the frenzied final movement, to which the Durban City Hall audience responded with great excitement.
The conductor of the evening was Thomas Sanderling, who was born in Russia and has established a big reputation in Europe over many years (he has visited Durban before).
The concert opened with Brahms’s Tragic Overture, and after the interval came Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, completed in 1876 after the composer had worked on it intermittently for more than 20 years.
Brahms was imbued with the spirit of Beethoven, and this big symphony – it runs for 45 minutes – has many reminders of that, especially in the final movement. The playing was first-rate throughout. The white-haired Thomas Sanderling is not in the first flush of youth, but his energy and vigour belied his years. He obviously has a deep knowledge and love of this masterwork – he conducted it without a score – and he communicated that to the orchestra.
Conductor and players were given a tremendous ovation at the end. A performance like this is proof that we have in our orchestra a precious cultural asset. – Artsmart.co.za