The final concert of the 13th annual Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival, conducted by Kazem Abdullah, with the French violinist Nicolas Dautricourt as soloist, was a “grande finale” in the true meaning of the word. PAUL BOEKKOOI reflects on music making that continued the kind of frisson which was experienced in just about every concert over the past ten days.

This hundred-plus ensemble is the “crème de la crème” amongst the exclusively student-fed ones. They performed impeccably, with the kind of enthusiastic driving force and extroversion one has come to expect from young musicians.

The chosen programme was particularly challenging, with two masterpieces from the earlier half of the 20th century standing central. Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea), was something completely different at the time of its premiere in 1905. When a non-Frenchman declared that France never brought forth any symphonies of the calibre of say Beethoven or Brahms, a French musicologist retorted: “But we have La Mer!  This was no idle chauvinistic response. La Mer has an extremely well- balanced interconnectedness, based on a small amount of motives through which it, strangely enough, does resemble aspects of some of the German symphonies. But the way in which Debussy worked out those motives and made it part of the work’s bigger structure, was all but in the German manner. Debussy likes compactness, he does not necessarily complete musical sentences, combines not earlier used sounds and creates many rhapsodic sounding effects. They become part of a completely new structural system.

Maestro Abdullah had a masterly control over the orchestra. Even the most refined pointillistic sound effects were totally audible within the orchestral textures, while during the great climaxes of the first and third movements the sound at all times reflected the very characteristic dualism between impressionism and expressionism – all depending where in the context of the work as a whole these parallels creep up.

It was especially a pleasure to hear such refined solo work from all sections within the orchestra and Abdullah praised those instrumentalists continuously at the end of the concert. It was a pity that the closing movement of La Mer had to be shortened, but as a whole the performance was a “complete” experience in itself.

In the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No.3 Nicolas Dautricourt, who performed this concerto for the first time in his career, especially reflected the French brilliance of the work in great detail. Through its connection with Sarasate as its dedicatee, Dautricourt’s driven passion and virtuosity gave us a total glimpse of what that particular era encompassed and how Sarasate’s playing could mesmerise. It was exactly that effect which Dautricourt demonstrated through all the moods of the work, with especially the wonderful aura of reflection which he so sensitively brought forward in the middle movement, Andantino quasi  allegretto. The Festival Symphony Orchestra combined virtuosity and refinement in their playing.

The repeat performance on Sunday evening of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra had more thrust, refinement and character than the one two days before. This time one could grasp to an even fuller extend the richness and amazing contrasts within the work in a reading of the score that came alive with fascinating detail and well-rounded sounds, reflecting sound wise an ideal equilibrium. Bravo to all!


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