PROGRAMME: Music by Debussy, Saint-Saëns & Mendelssohn

CONDUCTOR: Bernhard Gueller

SOLOIST: Avigail Bushakevitz, violin

VENUE: Linder auditorium, Parktown

RATING: *****

Our very own Avigail Bushakevitz is on a roll. With her recent graduation from New York’s Juilliard School of Music still fresh in our collective memories, she became the winner of the prestigious Samro Foundation Overseas Scholarship for Western Art last Saturday. With her prize money of R170 000 she can now further her studies overseas.

She is also the star attraction in this week’s concert of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Her most recent appearance with them was in June 2011. Since then it is as if she gained tremendously on the levels of musical and technical assertiveness. Strength – contrasted and in conjunction with a newfound high of nimble playing – is only one of the dominant qualities distinguishing her performance of the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No 3 in B minor, Opus 61.

This concerto is a tuneful and attractive vehicle, beautifully written for the violin and originally intended as a showpiece for Pablo Sarasate to display his virtuosity. In this work Bushakevitz does amply demonstrate a formidable array of all the violinistic arts. She dispatches them with felicity, polish and a natural response to the music’s predominantly innocent charm.

The concerto’s pianissimo opening could have sounded a bit more restrained but, as is, it has atmosphere, while this movement’s romanticism is nicely judged throughout. The real top-shelf magic started during Wednesday’s concert with the soloist in conversation with the clarity of the woodwind in the beautiful barcarolle-like Andantino, and especially the passage at the end of this movement where the violin plays harmonics three octaves above the clarinet.

Here, and in the exciting finale, Bushakevitz plays with a singing, silvery tone and with masterly control, particularly in the truth of her intonation and the precision of her bowing, all which is unfailingly elegant and responsive to every required nuance between legato and spiccato.

She was again fortunate in her accompanist, for Bernhard Gueller provides a superb backing with his JPO players. This all came especially well together in the extended finale, with the orchestra caught up in the vitality of the music making so that the brass chorale has a powerful, thrilling resonance.

The concert opens with Debussy’s four-movement Petite Suite in Henri Büsser’s magnificent and idiomatic orchestration. Gueller gets high-level refinement out of his smallish orchestra. There are quicksilver reflexes, there is rhythmic alacrity in all movements, where necessary a subtle sense of irony and a wide range of colour and dynamic throughout. Best of all is the simplicity which unfolds so tastefully.

Keeping the orchestra in chamber music mould for Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4 Italian, is a consideration that succeeds brilliantly under the conductor’s ever watchful eye. This is an exhilarating performance, yet without any sense of hurry.

The inner movements are as perfectly paced, the Andante a sensitively judged con moto – elegant yet gently touching, while the horns are magically lighting up the Trio of the Con Moto Moderato. The rousing Saltarello-finale receives perfect articulation from woodwind and a remarkably spontaneous control of every marked dynamic. Bravo!

• This concert is repeated on Sunday at 3pm in the ZK Matthews Hall, Unisa, Pretoria.