Joanna Frenkel

THE six-concert winter season of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, in the Durban City Hall, ended with a spectacular violin performance by the orchestra’s concert master, Joanna Frankel (pictured).

She played Dmitri Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1, written 67 years ago, a work that is still aggressively dissonant to many ears but totally compelling in its virtuoso drive and its many poetic passages.

It is long, about 40 minutes, and bristles with difficulties for the solo violinist, but Frankel, a tall, slim young American, gave a superbly skilful and confident performance.

The first movement, an extended Nocturne, displayed the pure, full tone of her playing, as did the third movement, a Passacaglia, a theme and variations on an unvarying ground bass. The second movement, a fiercely agitated Scherzo, and the final wild Burlesque, provided ample evidence of her remarkable technical skills, and her remarkable stamina.

The soloist has an almost non-stop role in this concerto, and its challenge is physical as well as mental.

The orchestra, under the direction of the visiting Venezuelan conductor, Carlos Izcaray, were admirable partners in all this.

For the soloist, the reward at the end was a standing, tumultuous ovation from the excited audience.

As an encore she played something completely different: an arrangement for violin and harp of Schubert’s Ave Maria.

The concert opened with Claude Debussy’s most celebrated work, The Afternoon of a Faun, a beautiful, dreamy example of impressionism dating from 1894. Izcaray’s expressive left hand conjured up some lovely sounds from the orchestra, especially in the woodwind passages.

The programme was completed with Mozart’s Symphony No 38, the Prague, first performed in that city in 1787 (Mozart was much-admired in Prague). This was another first-rate performance, precise and accurate, but vigorous and full-blooded.

Izcaray seems to have the gift of communicating his own enthusiasm to the players, and his brief visit to Durban has, I think, been highly successful.

 

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