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Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, reckoned by some critics to be the greatest piece of music ever written, brought the spring season of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestra’s 30th anniversary, to a successful conclusion before a big audience in the Durban City Hall.
The final movement of this Symphony No 9 in D minor is a choral setting of a poem by Friedrich Schiller, who died in 1805, 19 years before the first performance of the symphony. Schiller called his poem An die Freude, To Joy, but nearly everybody, including Beethoven, knew that this was a thin disguise for the writer’s real meaning, An Freiheit, To Freedom. Because of the politics of the time Schiller thought it wise not to be too outspoken. Does the scene sound familiar?
Beethoven’s symphony is indeed a mighty song of freedom, and it was given a splendid, impassioned performance by the KZNPO, a 120-voice choir and four good vocal soloists, all under the skilful direction of the visiting German conductor Justus Frantz (pictured).
The choir singers came from the Clermont Community Choir, the Durban Serenade Choral Society, the Durban Symphonic Choir and the New Apostolic Church Choir, and the soloists were Siyasanga Mbuyazwe (soprano), Elizabeth Lombard (mezzo), Stefan Louw (tenor) and Otto Maidi (bass).
Frantz has an interesting background. Born in 1944, he is the son of “righteous gentiles”, the name given to non-Jews who helped to save the lives of Jews during the Holocaust. He himself has over the past 40 years built an international reputation as a pianist and conductor, and he was recently appointed conductor of the Israel Sinfonietta orchestra, the first non-Jewish German to hold a post of this kind in Israel.
The choral symphony runs for about 70 minutes, and Justus Frantz conducted it without a score, a considerable feat of memory and stamina. His vigorous podium style was apparent from the mysterious and fierce opening of the first movement, and the orchestra responded splendidly. The violins were wonderfully expressive in the beautiful Adagio, as were the cellos and basses when they announced the great theme of the finalé.
The choir singers were outstanding, well trained, well disciplined and well balanced. They made a big contribution to the evening and were acknowledged with cheers and whistles from the audience.
It was gratifying to note that all sections of Durban’s diverse community participated in the performance of this great work. Beethoven would surely have approved. – Artsmart.co.za