Symphony Concert

Cape Times – South Africa
Aug 11 2004

Symphony Concert

By Deon Irish

Thursday, August 5, City Hall; CPO conducted by Leslie B Dunner,
soloists Suren Bagratuni, Beverley Chiat; Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B
minor, Op 104; Mahler: Symphony No 4 in G major.

Even the miserable winter conditions did not prevent a pleasantly
full – even if not packed – house for a neatly balanced programme of
symphonic masterpieces, sponsored by Cape Gate on the occasion of its
75th anniversary.

Dvorak’s glorious concerto was written in the last months of his
three-year stay in New York, a period which also produced the popular
symphony From the New World to be featured in this week’s concert.

It is the work of a composer at the height of his creative powers
and, more pertinently, self-confidence. In the case of the finale,
for example, he was unmoved in withstanding the pressures of his
technical adviser, the cellist Hans Wihan, and of his publisher,
neither of whom cared for the relatively quiet concluding measures of
the work.

A concluding cadenza was suggested – even written out by Wihan – but
the composer was adamant: “I will give you my work only if you
promise not to allow anyone to make changes – friend Wihan not
excepted…”

Dvorak’s judgment has stood the test of time and in this performance,
the Armenian-born cellist, Suren Bagratuni, demonstrated just why the
work retains its prime status in the cello repertoire.

It does require a neat partnership between soloist and conductor for
the orchestration, cunningly tailored to the soloist’s needs, has
nevertheless the potential to overwhelm. On this occasion, orchestral
climaxes were repeatedly too brass-dominated in scale, resulting in a
somewhat unbalanced overall architecture.

The soloist displayed considerable artistry on his instrument, with
an admirable purposefulness which ensured that the solo line remained
consistently focused. Bowing was many-faceted and intonation secure.

But the greater pleasure came from personal touches which, through
subtle alterations of tempo and the infusion of a rhapsodic element,
gave individual personality to a well-known score.

Accompaniment featured many good things – including some fine horn
solos and finely controlled soft trumpet chords – but there was some
indifferent ensemble – not least in the final crescendo, which only
just held together.

The visiting American conductor, Leslie B Dunner, then took centre
stage for the Mahler 4th Symphony and demonstrated a facility with
the score which proved ingratiating. The work is Mahler’s shortest
and happiest symphony; and has as its genesis a rejected seventh
movement for his already monumental third symphony!

The movement was to be called What the Child tells me and, in this
symphony, it becomes the final revelation of all that goes before, a
song in which the soprano replicates the
innocent joy of a child’s vision of heaven, presenting an uncannily
contemporary obsession with culinary ingredients.

Beverley Chiat sang with musicality and a joyful intent, in most part
capturing the composer’s direction to replicate a childlike
brilliance.

This is a work in which the self-gnawing angst which beset the
composer was, for a brief while, operating at only fractional
strength.

But the morbidities are there; the acerbic tunes and neurotic
accompaniments abound and, even if it does culminate in a child-like
vision, we are constrained to admit that it is a very odd child.

Dunner led the orchestra in a generally assured and frequently
insightful account of the score; but, such anguish as there was
seemed (perhaps understandably) that of a rather different oppression
from that understood by the composer. The same old story, but told
with a somewhat different accent.

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