Review: Vassily Primakov & Yasuo Shinozaki

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Vassily PrimakovYoung Russian pianist Vassily Primakov was the latest ‘name’ to headline the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2013 Celebrity Symphony Season at City Hall, and people of all ages (and fashion senses) assembled to enjoy the evening’s programme.

First up was Benjamin Britten’s Four Sea Interludes, from Peter Grimes Op. 33A. Having never heard this performed before I was delighted by the unison and pure melodies the violins and flutes produced. The overture, lengthier than most, has four contrasting sections that flow together to produce one coherent and dynamic piece of music. The brass passages in particular were silky smooth – a great contrast to the finale with its fierce drones of tubular bells.

Schumann’s famous Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 followed and the opening melodic solo by the oboe was almost liquid in tone. From the onset, Vassily Primakov produced a gentle, dolce sound from the piano that marked his whole performance.

When the passages got more intricate, a blonde bombshell in a gold sequin dress could be seen bobbing her peroxided hair to the beat dictated by the conductor.  Primakov’s enjoyment appeared to be less wholehearted.  Although he articulated the melodic lines of the concerto even in the most technically challenging passages, his performance was far from flawless. He fumbled on three separate instances in the first movement and continued to do so in the second. He even froze for a few seconds after playing an incorrect chord progression, though conductor Yasuo Shinozaki craftily kept the orchestra going.

Although suffering from a few missed notes in the remainder of the work, Primakov kept calm and concentrated and the quality of his tone was not compromised. For that I was extremely impressed. He thus warranted a standing ovation, though the rest of the audience did not seem to share my admiration for his courage.

Having demonstrated his skill through his masterful leadership in the previous two works, conductor Yasuo Shinozaki then led the CPO through Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73.  Each movement flowed and sang. The wind section of the orchestra outdid themselves as the strings carried their respective solo passages on a scenic bed of music. The brass pronounced the ending of the concert with crisp chords, the result of nothing less than great teamwork.

Special commendation goes to Maestro Shinozaki who managed to produce such a continuously refined sound from the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. I cannot think of a performance in which each work was so gracefully presented. At times it looked like the conductor himself was swimming in the music as he directed the musicians. It was truly beautiful to watch.

These concert series have been a regular part of Cape Town’s nightlife menu for many years. An evening at the Symphony is a very relaxing, fun and convenient way to spend a weeknight out.  Great music, free parking, wine, coffee and snacks on sale – any ideas how better to spend a Thursday evening? And it might even help you be more productive at work… my computer-geek fiancé confessed that during the concert he’d been inspired with the answer to a long standing technical problem!

Maike Gevers

Vassily Primakov performed with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra at Cape Town City Hall on 20 June 2013.

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