The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra opened their winter symphony season with a bang, thanks to some outstanding playing under the baton of Bernhard Gueller.
The programme opened with a bit of movie magic: the world premiere of young South African film composer Shaun Crawford’s Overture. It was a rare treat to have the composer in the audience, and he must have felt very proud to have heard his composition played in front of a packed house. The scoring is similar to what we’ve grown accustomed to hearing in countless films. Glockenspiel, vibraphone, piano and chimes add sparkle to the orchestral texture, and much of the main theme is played by horns and brass. The only missing ingredients were popcorn and a darkened cinema. I hope to hear Crawford’s music in its natural habitat one day soon.
Antonín Dvořák’s cello concerto is as much a showpiece for large orchestra as it is for the cello. The soloist for this work was another South African, Peter Martens.
Conductor Bernhard Gueller started the first movement very slowly, creating a stark contrast to faster sections that followed in the long orchestral introduction. At first the unusually slow tempo felt a bit plodding and cerebral, but pretty soon I warmed to Gueller’s interpretation.
Peter Martens played beautifully, with a mellow and intimate tone that suffered only from a lack of volume, in contrast to the mighty orchestra behind him.
There are many beautiful moments in this concerto, but one of the best ones last night was the duet in the third movement between Peter Martens’ cello, and the violin of his wife, concertmaster Suzanne Martens.
While the scratching and blowing sections usually get praise for their solos, Eugene Trofimczyk deserves commendation for his superb triangle playing. It may be a simple instrument, but it takes expert hands to play it well.
Bernhard Gueller’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony left me speechless. Conducting from memory, he seemed to have every member of the orchestra under his direct control. The brass section’s playing was particularly impressive and precise.
Tchaikovsky builds on repeated themes throughout the symphony. Gueller managed the ebbing and flowing intensity expertly, bringing the music to a spine-tingling climax in the fourth movement. I had to close my eyes for a moment and stop making notes, so that I could experience this rare perfect moment without distraction. Of course, Tchaikovsky’s superb music must take a lot of the credit, but under Gueller’s direction (and perhaps his marvellously authoritative beard?), the orchestra became a conduit through which the composer’s voice spoke.
Bernhard Gueller will be back on the podium in August for Johan Botha’s gala concert, while American-Israeli conductor Daniel Boico – associate guest conductor of the KZN Philharmonic – will grace the stage for the remainder of this symphony season.
Peter Martens performed with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra at City Hall on 16 June 2016.