Review: Mirjam Contzen at the Endler Concert Series

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imagesAttending a concert in the Stellenbosch Conservatorium’s Endler Hall is a quaint affair. Patrons tend to go for dinner in one of the many restaurants that topple from balconies and onto side walks all across the historic centre of town. They can be spotted hastily finishing their meals and walking briskly towards the Conservatorium, only stopping to briefly admire the latest exhibits of the 2012 Living Art exhibition located all around town. Polite nods of recognition are then exchanged in the foyer as the patrons acknowledge their hunch that the person on the next door table minutes earlier was indeed a fellow concertgoer.

The Endler Hall has arguably the best acoustical features of all concert halls in the Western Cape.  It has even been acclaimed as one of the finest concert halls in the world. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Endler Prestige Concert Series has always attracted world-renowned artists. True to form, this year’s series was launched in style with the German-Japanese violinist Mirijam Contzen as guest soloist alongside the familiar faces of pianist Luis Magalhães and the Amici String Quartet. Contzen is currently on tour in South Africa and this event was the first of three opportunities for Capetonians to see the virtuoso in action.

The Amici String Quartet and Contzen set the tone for the evening with immaculate playing in Schubert’s Rondo in A major, D. 438 for violin and strings. The words of Jeffrey Tate came to mind as the heavenly sounds of Schubert filled the auditorium: the most perfect expression of human behaviour is indeed the resonance of a string quartet. With outstanding ensemble playing the quartet ably supported the rich and assured pitch of Contzen’s 1733 Carlo Bergonzi violin.

Magalhães then joined the group with Mozart’s Concerto in E-flat major for piano and orchestra (KV 449) and after the interval the audience was entertained with the Concerto in D major for violin, piano and string quartet (Op 21) by Chausson. The compositions of Ernst Chausson, a French romantic composer, are generally not that well known but this lawyer-turned-composer (similar to Robert Schumann) left a total of 39 numbered works of which this concerto is regarded as one of his best. The audience was spellbound during the performance of this four-movement work which invokes a range of different moods, from dark and ominous to melancholic, concluding with a sense of urgency and desolation in the finale.

The dialogue between the piano and violin parts in this performance deserves special mention. Chausson created a very unique chamber ensemble in this work by allowing for more developed and distinct piano and violin parts. Magalhães and Contzen performed these expanded solo sections with the greatest ease and conviction, and the challenge of the full-bodied timbre of Contzen’s violin was successfully met by the fervent playing of Magalhães.

It is a true privilege to attend such an outstanding concert by such celebrated artists on home ground. And it should be noted by all that these events are surprisingly well priced; similar performances by artists of the same calibre would cost significantly more in the concert halls of Europe and elsewhere. It is therefore within reach of many to indulge in the concert antics of the picturesque Stellenbosch.

Endler concerts to look forward to in this first quarter of the year include a chamber music performance as part of the Cape Classic Series (15 – 25 February), as well as a variety of performances under the auspices of the Woordfees (2 – 11 March).

 

Andra le Roux-Kemp

 

The first concert of the Endler Prestige Concert Series 2012 took place on 7 February 2012.   

If you liked this review, read our review of the Stellenbosch University Symphony Orchestra at Endler Hall.

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