French music has often a more diversified character. It is, amongst other characteristics, on a subtle level more refined and pictorial. No wonder they coined both the word Impressionism and to a slightly lesser extent, Expressionism, to fully disclose what they wish to express, with the former producing sounds reflecting feelings and moods rather than a specific structure and the latter where emotions and reactions are rather more deeply emphasised than objects.
Lykele Temmingh from Durban, the resident conductor of the KZNPO, made his symphonic debut with the JPO in this French programme. He was never dangerously out of his depth in the music of five divergent composers who all lived approximately up to the 1920s, also known as late Romanticism. Those works with a lighter touch suited him better than, say, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun or the technical, musical and dramatic skills needed for delivering a totally convincing performance of the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony.
Opening the concert was a little but attractive ditty by Gabriel Faure – his overture to the Masques et bergamasques Suite, Opus 112. Amidst an ideal lightness Temmingh managed well to also catch the harmonious richness of the composer’s textures and the sensitivity of his lines in this fine example of incidental music. However, ensemble amongst the strings was a bit shaky in a couple of places.
Liesl Stoltz and her golden flute was the excellent soloist of the evening and a specialist in the performance of French music to boot. In Cecile Chaminade’s Concertino for Flute and Orchestra in D major, Opus 107 she fully represented the expression, agility and core qualities one associates with the French flute tradition over many centuries and specifically the golden era which developed over the past 150 years. Perhaps symptomatic for our time is that when many audiences experience contemporary music as having a brow-furrowing effect on them if not totally repellent, there should be a ready place for music from an earlier time which makes no bid for seriousness or importance, but is nevertheless undemandingly agreeable. For this, flautists have the Chaminade or Francois Borne Carmen Fantasy for Flute and Orchestra at ready for us to enter their worlds.
In the former Ms Stoltz fully demonstrated the composer’s craftsmanship, soothing and graceful melodic inventiveness, natural charm as well as quite impressive and effective orchestration – even if the conductor could have created more clarity and less volume while accompanying her due to the slight thickness that so easily can become part and parcel of Chaminade’s way with the orchestra. Legend has it that she was in a rush to complete it.
The flautist’s dynamic approach made us aware of the composer’s abundance of ideas – from thoughtful introspection in the lyrical sections to spontaneous virtuosity, while investing the music with extremely refined nuances of tone, rich phrasing and a perfect feeling for pace. In the technically even more breathtaking Carmen Fantasy she and the conductor held the flow of the piece together notwithstanding the sudden changes in tempo and mood. In this piece a slightly more chamber-sized ensemble might have improved the balance between soloist and orchestra.
Ms Stoltz should be invited again by the JPO and/ or KZNPO. What should she play? Two suggestions: Perhaps the Flute Concerto by Jacques Ibert, or if one can plan to have an even more riveting work from the mid-1950s programmed, the choice should fall on the Jindrich Feld Flute Concerto.
The JPO’s performance of the already mentioned Debussy work was notable for some excellent and at the same time beautiful flute playing by Helen Vosloo and her two flute desk partners. From most other sections of the orchestra there were many moments of impressive tonal sensitivity, although the sound of the crotales (finger cymbals) could not be heard.
In the Organ Symhony the instrument itself sounded too covered, but that is usually the case when an electronic instrument replaces a real pipe organ. Pieter van den Berg’s performance was competent, but his registration could have been clearer, or did he perhaps have not much choice in the matter?
Caution was in some of the symphony’s sections a destroyer of the potential effect it could have had. The opening Allegro moderato scarcely had the full-flight potential of a performance which should have had a clearer rhythmic assertiveness, while some consistently under-projected playing from a rather tired sounding JPO led to an impression of level-headed competence. Most of the Poco adagio sounded muddy, but things turned out for the better in the second movement, with thankfully higher levels of energy in the execution of the different sections of the orchestra which were now also in better shape and more sensitively balanced than in the first half.
CONCERT: Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
CONDUCTOR: Lykele Temmingh
SOLOIST: Liesl Stoltz, flute
VENUE: Linder Auditorium, Parktown – 14 March. Repeat: 15 March