Maria du Toit and Cape Philharmonic OrchestraAndra le Roux-Kemp
Andra le Roux-Kemp: While snow covered most of South Africa’s nine provinces, Capetonians were getting ready for spring.
The first concert of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra’s spring season was creating a buzz of excitement. What better way is there to shake free from the shackles of winter than with some French flair?
The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra set the mood for the evening with Maurice Ravel’s La Valse – A Choreographic Poem for Orchestra. This work must be the most disturbing wannabe Viennese waltz in the history of classical music! Just as a Strauss-like waltz melody sweeps the imagination into the swirl and twirl of a shimmering ballroom in Vienna, the harsh realities of the present screech in to shatter the illusion. ‘An apotheosis of the Viennese waltz mingled with the fantastic whirl of destiny’ as Ravel himself described it.
The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of an energetic Arjan Tien, took us all on a bewildering journey to Vienna and back, completely mesmerising the audience with this wondrous work. As the music grew in intensity to an even zanier climax, so the tension in City Hall also escalated, erupting at last in an elated applause. An applause that continued with even greater fervour as Maria du Toit appeared on stage.
Du Toit is a South African-born clarinettist with a French surname who has been hailed as sensational, exemplary and impressive by critics across the globe. With no less than 14 concerto performances for 2012 thus far, this young instrumentalist is certainly at the height of her career.
Currently the principal clarinettist for the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Du Toit recently made headlines with the launch of Luminous Shade, her album with pianist Nina Schumann under the TwoPianists Records label. The CD is a must for clarinet enthusiasts and those who enjoy chamber music in general, as it includes a number of exciting and lesser known works like Rheinberger’s Sonata and Benjamin’s Le Tombeau de Ravel.
Du Toit’s interpretation of Debussy’s Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra was just as electrifying as the Ravel piece. Continuing with the French theme of the evening, dreamy impressionist sounds filled the concert hall only to be interrupted by unexpected playful runs that are so typical of Debussy’s music. A master of her instrument, Du Toit kept the audience spellbound with her exacting use of a range of tone colours and dynamics.
In Andre Messager’s Concert Solo for Clarinet she showcased her technical ability and exceptional sound quality. Although this work is only about 5 minutes in duration, it is a strenuous workout for any clarinettist. Lyrical and sweet melodic sections alternate with quick runs covering the full range of the instrument, culminating in a lively finale. And just in case the audience had any doubts about the extraordinary abilities of this young clarinettist, she concluded her performance with an awe-inspiring encore. What a star and what an exciting start to the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra’s spring season!
The evening concluded with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique Op. 14, a work as mind-blowing as Ravel’s La Valse. The five movement symphony is based on a detailed programme that Berlioz wrote himself. It tells the tale of an artist, desperate with love, who attempts suicide by taking a dose of opium. Not strong enough to kill him, the opium plunges the artist into a series of delirious dreams about his beloved.
The extended orchestra - which included a funeral bell, two ophicleides, two harps, a battery of percussion and a heavily augmented string and woodwind section – gave an excellent performance of this feverish composition. The award-winning Dutch conductor, Arjan Tien, demanded a spirited and emotion-filled performance, leaving no hallucinatory dream unexplored. (Curiously, the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra concluded their 2012 first season with this same enigmatic work.)
The spring season of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra is certainly off to a stellar start and Capetonians can look forward to three more exciting events leading us into the month of September. Conductor Arjen Tien will take centre stage again on Thursday, 16 August with soloist Antonio Pompa-Baldi for, inter alia, the monumental Rachmaninoff third piano concerto.
Clarinettist Maria du Toit performed with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra at City Hall, Cape Town on 9 August 2012.
Andra le Roux-Kemp
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Cape Town City Hall, Cape Town Western Cape South Africa