The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s autumn season opened with a lot of newness. Among the not-so-new was conductor Daniel Boico, who has won over Cape Town audiences with his energetic and exciting interpretations since his short-notice debut last year. Also returning was German violinist Alexander Gilman, who has performed often with the CPO, and recorded an award-winning album with them in 2012. Gilman brought with him two young stars from his LGT Young Soloists programme: 14 year old cellist Danielle Akta, and 20 year old violinist David Nebel. The programme was also full of firsts for the orchestra.
Respighi’s Trittico Botticeliani can be described as “picturesque”. Inspired by three Botticelli paintings in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Respighi set about “painting” a musical suite bearing the titles of the inspiring works. The composer, who learnt the craft of orchestration from Rimsky-Korsakov, scored his work for a rather small orchestra, but with instruments like the piano, harp and celesta adding a filmic quality.
With Boico wielding his baton like a paintbrush, and the orchestra as his canvas, every art work came alive. The beautiful uniformity of the strings added greatly to the musical image.
Waxman’s Carmen Fantasie, a spectacular showpiece for violin and orchestra, can be seen as either an extended overture, or as a condensed version of the opera. Although the CPO made a recording with Alexander Gilman in 2012, and filled the pit for Bizet’s opera last year, they found maestro Boico’s blistering tempo challenging. Gilman’s student, David Nebel, took the challenge this time, and certainly rose to the challenge. His perilous display of virtuosity made for edge-of-the-seat excitement, even if, at this speed, his playing was less precise than on his YouTube video with piano accompaniment.
Are two virtuoso violin parts better than one? Pablo de Sarasate, the Spanish Paganini, seems to have thought so. His Navarra was the perfect vehicle for Gilman to showcase his student. A very animated Nebel performed every death-defying phrase in perfect synch with his more experienced mentor. Their scintillating choreography didn’t include the orchestra, though, who were left trailing behind in places.
Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations was also heard in last year’s autumn season opener. Although the soloist this time was much less experienced, she proved to be highly capable. The very young Danielle Akta played this tribute to Mozart with idiomatic Mozartian articulation, and a touch of rubato in her phrasing. Her youthful expressiveness was brimful of charming innocence. One can but gaze expectantly into a crystal ball for a glimpse of what extra decade of technical refinement might bring.
Rachmaninov’s Études-Tableaux (picture studies) were envisioned as Chopinesque piano studies, but inspired by pictures. He kept these inspirations a secret, though, until he agreed to Respighi’s request to orchestrate five of the studies. Respighi’s rarely performed Cinq Études-Tableaux sounds extremely colourful and inventive, but still retain echoes of Rachmaninov.
The orchestra illustrated the first four pictures with relative ease. “The Sea and the Seagulls”, “The Fair”, “Funeral March” and “Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” were all good depictions of their titles. The concluding “March”, however, lacked the military precision demanded by the music. The orchestra’s playing was rather loose, with different sections lagging variable amounts behind the conductor’s beat.
The amount of newness in this concert was exciting, but also slightly overwhelming due to the busyness of the programme. The next three concerts in the season will revert back to the usual overture-concerto-symphony format. Daniel Boico will conduct the next two, and Brandon Phillips will once again conclude the season.
This review first appeared on www.rudolphmare.com and has been reproduced here with the writer’s permission.
This performance took place at Cape Town City Hall on 30 March 2017.