Review: Mkhwanazi Mesmerises at Nederburg

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Back in the day, before ‘home entertainment’ was synonymous with flat screen TVs, Box Office movies and Wii games, and when most people could still play at least one instrument rather well, home concerts were a popular way to unwind with friends. While the popularity of home concerts has regrettably waned since the 1800s, the Nederburg Concert Series has certainly contributed to its resurgence in the Western Cape.

On the last Sunday of every month (from May to November 2013), the Nederburg Concert Series offers locals a delightful home concert in the thatched-roofed, white-washed Nederburg manor house. It is an intimate experience, where patrons can get up close and personal with the artists, and where good music, food, wine, and the odd bit of town gossip flows freely, just like it did over 200 years ago when the Wolvaart family called this magnificent estate their home.

The ensemble for the September concert was rather unusual: on stage was Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, an award-winning soprano originally from Kwazulu-Natal, as well as Cherilee Adams and Dylan Tabisher – the Western Cape’s favourite percussion magicians, and Philippus Hugo, a well-known chef and accompanist on the piano.  My speculation as to whether this odd medley would hit the mark was fleeting however, as I quickly became too busy with my patron duties which included consuming delicious sherry and canapés, while basking in the sun and enjoying the magnificent views over the vineyards and Paarlberg.

Once the concert started my doubts were soon put to rest.  These artists were musically assured and had engaging stage personalities to boot. The programme offered an interesting choice of works that alternated between different ensemble combinations, showcasing each performer’s abilities, as well as the interesting new sound possibilities that the unusual combination of voice, piano and marimba has to offer.

The audience thoroughly enjoyed Mkhwanazi’s performance.  She truly has the ability to connect with her audience and to keep them mesmerised up to the release of the very last note. Her interpretation of Gounod’s Ah! Je Veux Vivre was nothing short of superb and particularly impressive were her high notes which threatened to shatter all the antique crystal left in the Nederburg Manor House. You cannot help but smile when listening to Mkhwanazi’s O Luce di quest’ anima by Donizetti, and her rendition of Heimwee by S le Roux Marais brought a tear to many an eye.
The percussion duo Cherilee Adams and Dylan Tabisher gave a resounding performance true to their stellar reputation.  The two Bach Preludes (BWV 848 and 847) and the Wind Sketch II by Keiko Abe were particularly enjoyable. However, it was their rendition of Czardas by V Monti that almost had us all up from our seats in sheer jubilation.

The collective of piano, voice and percussion also did extremely well. The Laudate Dominum by Mozart was completely effortless and although there was a lot going on in the accompaniment of this piece (6 hands on piano and marimba), the voice still came out superior. The evening concluded on a high note with an exciting new interpretation (for voice, piano and marimba) of an old favourite: Summertime by George Gershwin.

As we left the music room of the Manor House to enjoy a delicous spread and award-winning Nederburg wines, I could hear people whistling and humming some of the melodies that we had just been privy too. And while the humming may have been out of tune and the whistling far from the instrumental bliss we had just experienced, I realised that this is what home concerts are all about: the opportunity for artists and music enthusiasts to share their love for music in an intimate setting that transcends the barriers of formal concert halls.

by Andra le Roux-Kemp

Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, US Percussion Duo and Philippus Hugo performed at the Nederburg Concert Series on 29 September 2013. The next Nederburg Concert takes place on 27 October 2013, featuring the Amadeus Wind Quintet.

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