Felix Mendelssohn’s iconic Hebrides Overture speaks of the heady haunts and atmospheric ethos of Scotland’s craggy coastline. The much-beloved showpiece serves as a turbulent curtain-raiser to launch the final programme of the season. This sees the noted young Israeli conductor Noam Aviel taking to the podium. Ms Aviel is one of the select group of new-generation women conductors to make her mark internationally. Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No I in A minor swiftly won the esteem of his peers, as well composers who followed in later. Shostakovich and Rachmaninov considered the work to be the greatest of all cello concertos. Sir Donald Francis Tovey, doyen of British musicologists, praised Saint-Saëns’s masterly orchestration, noting that ” the solo instrument displays every register without the slightest difficulty in penetrating the orchestra.” If this high-octane piece challenges even the most accomplished of soloists, its hurdles are sure to be met with aplomb by the gifted young Paris-based Serbian virtuoso, Maja Bogdanovic.
After dispatching Camille Saint-Saëns’ fireworks display with singular elan, Ms Bogdanovic returns to the stage in reflective mode, with more repertoire from her adopted home city. The melancholic opening to Gabriel Fauré’s C minor Élégie gives way to a tempestuous central section, before reverting to its elegiac opening theme.
Schubert’s rarely heard Fifth Symphony concludes the evening’s programme. Commentators are often puzzled by its neglect by concert programme curators, given its melodic fecundity and youthful vigour, qualities that attract a far wider audience acquainted with the Austrian master’s better known symphonic oeuvre. Written in the restful key of B flat, this early flowering of Schubert’s craft was written in September and October of 1816. It premiered privately the following year, but its first public performance only given posthumously in October 1841. Its inclusion here as the climax of the KZN Philharmonic’s Spring Season is cause for jubilation.