Reviews: Music concerts at ‘the witness’ Hilton arts festival

2009-09-22 00:00

THE Music Revival concert series at The Witness Hilton Arts Festival got off to a scintillating start on Friday evening with husband and wife piano duo, Nina Schumann and Luis Magalhães taking the audience on a musical journey characterised by meticulous synchronicity and technical virtuosity with informative and humorous dialogue between pieces.

Magalhães related two-piano music to Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons, saying that musicians need to be different in temperament (opposites) in order to bring flavour (”salt and pepper”) to the performance of two-piano and ensemble works.

Two-piano works rely heavily on communication and empathy between the performers, and Schumann and Magalhães clearly had a very strong personal and musical ­empathy communicating mostly with their eyes (and eyebrows).

The programme engaged the audience from the first notes of Variations on a theme by Paganini by Brahms, to the last notes of El Salon Mexico by Aaron Copeland.

The Anton Arensky suites with their French flavour and humour were also well received by an audience who had already been seduced by the sumptuous richness of the performance of the Paganini Variations for two pianos by Witold Lutoslawski.

At the end of the concert, Magalhães paid tribute to Christopher ­Duigan as a “phenomenal pianist” and thanked him for providing other musicians with a platform and opportunities to perform.

This providing of opportunities for other musicians permeated the 11 concerts organised by Duigan for the festival. London-based clarinettist Joanne Rozario and KZNPO musicians David Smith (principal viola), Sabine Baird (principal flute) and Duigan (piano) performed music by Mozart, Bach, Fauré, Chopin and Brahms. The performances were flawless and the quiet coolness of the chapel was perfectly suited to the beauty of classical chamber music.

Duigan also treated audiences to a dazzling performance of passionate piano solos followed by an opera gala featuring popular baritone Federico Freschi and Lithuanian mezzo­soprano Aukse Trinkuanite, performing arias by a variety of well-known composers.

And he is doing much to nurture and promote young talent by including the PMB and Midlands Youth Choir in the concert series with a full performance of their own, and as part of the Last Night of the Hilton Proms.

One of the highlights of the concert series must surely have been Cape Town guitarist James Grace with his matinée-idol good looks and beautiful renditions of Spanish guitar music. His technical brilliance, attention to detail and complete absorption in the music he was playing, made his performance an exciting and enjoyable experience.

It was encouraging to see some younger people attending the concerts, proving that classical music is no longer the elitist, inaccessible thing it used to be. It is thanks to the efforts of people like Duigan and his Music Revival programme that this change in perception is taking place, and it is a healthy sign that music is alive and well in KZN.

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