Opera Music Fills the Theatre
On Sunday afternoon three outstanding voices with one superb pianist from the UCT Opera School entertained a smallish but very enthusiastic audience in the Oakhurst Arts Theatre. Brought to George by our Music Society and sponsored by the Rupert Foundation, these four talented musicians filled the theatre with sound – without the use of microphones so beloved by pop singers.
The challenge of bringing opera to the masses in concert form is for the singers to get into ‘character’ without the benefit of costumes, scenery and surrounding plot. This, the singers managed to do most convincingly. The piano transcriptions of orchestral scores are intricate and require nimble fingering and big chords. The pianist, Lisa Engelbrecht, is the head vocal coach of the opera school and, along with the various other hats she wears, is an excellent and supportive accompanist.
The first half of the programme was made up of works by Mozart, Donizetti and a Rossini aria. My only criticism is that these works were all too similar. Both Ané Pretorius and Brittany Smith have good strong voices with controlled top notes and the skills to perform the vocal gymnastics required by these composers. Luvuyo Mbundu has a slight frame from which issues a big baritone voice. During the concert he captured the characters of Figaro, Maletesta and Faust most convincingly.
The second half of the concert contained selections from Gounod, Puccini Delibes and Verdi. Particularly memorable was the very popular “Flower Duet” from ’Lakme’ sung beautifully by both sopranos with no histrionics. The concert ended with Enrico Morricone’s “Nella Fantasia” sung by all three singers and earning rapturous applause.
As an encore, we were treated to Gershwin’s “Summertime” from his opera ‘Porgy and Bess’. This was exquisitely sung by Brittany Smith with gentle harmonized humming from her colleagues.
Obviously opera is alive and well at the University of Cape Town and we look forward to another visit from these talented, young musicians and wish them well in their future careers.
On Sunday afternoon the famous South Easter wind blew a large audience into the Arts Theatre to listen to the latest offering from the Charl du Plessis Trio titled Opposites Attract. These talented musicians are no strangers to George and they were once again given a warm welcome.
After a meditative opening from du Plessis, a nod of the head and we were off on the roller coaster of cross-over jazz. And what fun it was. Du Plessis is an accomplished pianist and imaginative arranger with a quirky sense of humour and throughout the afternoon he kept us informed as to how he went about arranging each item to suit the Trio. His almost irreverent interpretation of the libretti of the operas was greeted by gales of laughter; thus La Donna è Mobile became the lady with the mobile phone!
The newest member of the Trio is Peter Auret, a popular jazz drummer and sound engineer. He is a versatile and sensitive player who, with an assortment of drumsticks and amazing technique manages to get the maximum effects from his instruments. As an accompanist he blends in seamlessly, but as a soloist he is fascinating to watch and hear. So, Gluck’s Melody from his opera Orfeo and Eurydice was a gentle and soothing rendition. Not so the Duke Ellington C Jam Blues where everyone did their own thing – very effectively.
The J Lewis Django brought together du Plessis and Werner Spies and his Stick Bass, which is an electronic double bass with no body. With his long fingers Spies coaxes warm melodies from the instrument but is not averse to leaping around the strings in a hectic jazz session.
Puccini’s E Lucevan le Stelle from Tosca, Verdi’s La Donna è Mobile from Rigoletto and Mozart’s fiendishly difficult Queen of the Night aria from the Magic Flute, will never be the same again after the treatment they received which left the audience breathless.
Arvo Pärt’s Fűr Alina has no rhythm indication and the piano and drums were able to interpret the pitched notes as they wished. Auret added yet more strange sounds from his instruments while du Plessis wandered nimbly around the keyboard and together they produced a reflective, timeless piece of music.
Back to the opera with the Seguidilla from Bizet’s Carmen, (where the Habanera quietly sneaked in) and Rossini’s Largo al Factotum, both given the Trio’s imaginative treatment. The programme ended with a rousing performance of Ellington’s transcription of Tizol’s Caravan which fully deserved the enthusiastic applause. As an encore the Trio gave us a lively performance of Take the A Train with its whistles, hoots and clicks coming through clearly.
This was a concert not to be missed and the Charl du Plessis Trio will always be welcome in George.
Gem of a Concert
On Saturday evening a distressingly small audience was rewarded by a gem of a concert performed by the Bella Rosa Quartet at the Oakhurst Arts Theatre. The whole programme consisted of French music embracing a central theme of Love and Life.
The programme opened with the solo flute of Sally Minter beguiling us with Debussy’s “Syrinx” (Syrinx is the German word for the pan-pipes played by the mythical God, Pan.) We were drawn in by the ethereal whirling sound and we knew we were in for a very different concert.
The short pieces were charmingly introduced by the soprano Louise Howlett who has a strong and clear voice which she uses to good dynamic effect. Her soft singing was magical.
Each musician was given a chance to show off their instrument and after the flute it was the turn of the pianist Albert Combrink who chose to play the Prelude from Debussy’s Suite Pour le Piano. This is a demanding work and Combrink negotiated his way through it very successfully. Apart from his solo work Combrink proved to be an excellent accompanist – supportive and sympathetic but never intrusive.
The cellist, Pieter- Adriaan Stoffberg elected to play Ernst Bloch’s “Nigun” from Bloch’s Baal Shem – suite of three pictures of Hassidic life. Both Stoffberg and Combrink gave us a wonderfully dynamic rendition of this difficult piece.
The highlight of the evening was Louise Farrenc’s Trio for Piano, Cello and Flute. The first movement was a set of variations gently shared between all the instruments and followed by very busy second movement. This was an exciting work much appreciated by the audience.
The programme ended with the lovely song made famous by Edith Piaf, “La Vie en Rose” sung beautifully by Louse Howlett.
This was a very different genre of music seldom heard in George and should have been better supported. It was presented by four excellent musicians in an atmosphere of Love and the Joy of Life and we look forward to a return visit by this Quartet.
Brilliant Start to the GMS 2018 Programme
On Friday evening a medium sized audience attended the first concert of the GMS programme which was presented by Jolente De Maeyer (Violin) and Nikolaas Kende (Piano). These two fine musicians opened their programme with Mendelssohn’s Sonata for violin and piano in F minor,Op.4 which he wrote in 1925 at the age of sixteen. It starts with a thoughtful adagio solo for the violin before being joined by the piano for a brisk allegro. A slow adagio movement brought the beautiful, warm register of the violin while the third movement allegro agitato was just that, especially for the pianist. There is no doubt that these two musicians have played together for some time.
Lodewijk Mortelmans was a Belgian composer who wrote in a variety of styles. He was known as the “Flemish Brahms” In the latter part of his life he wrote the Romanza for Viola and Piano, later transcribed for Violin and Piano and then re worked as an orchestral piece. It is not a work of great import but it does have a variety of dynamics, well demonstrated by the performers.
During the last years of his creative life, Schumann wrote three sonatas for violin and Piano. The first half of the concert ended with the second of these, written in 1854. It has a ferociously difficult third movement that was safely and effectively negotiated by the instrumentalists and earned them a resounding round of applause.
Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata was the sole work of the second half. It was re-dedicated to Kreutzer, considered by Beethoven to be the best violinist around at that time, who never played it as he said it was too difficult. It has a demanding piano part and probably, because of the intricacies, Kende elected to play this without music. The work opens slowly and then bursts into a demanding Presto. The next movement is a lovely Andante with five variations before the final Presto with a tarantella theme. This is a fiendish piece of writing and both De Maeyer and Kende performed this brilliantly thus deserving the standing ovation given them.
This was a superb concert performed by two excellent musicians and I hope they return to George soon.
GMS deserves better audience support given this level of performances being hosted, so to ensure that George and surrounding communities continue to be enriched by world class live performances.
Derik is a business analyst at Vodacom. He has been singing with the Stellenbosch Madrigal Singers for six years (he thinks). He loves watching cricket (when SA is winning), playing table tennis and wrestling with large dogs. Derik thinks weddings are the perfect place to show off his dance moves.
In his own words, Michelle was born at a very early age. He has always loved singing and has even had the opportunity to sing in Carnegie Hall in New York City. When not singing, Michelle manufactures heaters and looks after all of Stellenbosch's pets while their owners takea day off or spend a weekend at the spa.
Elsje has been a member of the Stellenbosch Madrigal Singers since 2011. She took over the role of musical director in 2013, in partnership with Harri Kemp. She is a business analyst at a mobile technology company in Woodstock, Cape Town. When she is not making music, you’ll find her spending time with her family, reading a book, catching a movie, enjoying a trek in the outdoors, or enjoying a glass of wine or cup of coffee with friends.
Helené is a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church and has been a member of the Madrigal Singers since 2014. In her free time she enjoys hiking and playing board games, while always making time for her friends and members of her congregation.
Divan is in many ways the quintessential Capetonian, who reads, runs and enjoys a good glass of wine on lazy afternoons. After spending some time as a history teacher, Divan now works at a private TVET college. It is, however, his work in the Church that is his passion, where he is involved in youth and music ministries. Divan has been a member of the Madrigal Singers since 2016.
Carla van Greunen
Carla is currently employed as an administrator at a Stellenbosch tech company, but actually wants to occupy ten other occupations before she turns 80! She has a wonderful husband and four amazing pets that she loves dearly. Carla feels that even though she has been singing for at least 20 years, she still has much to learn!
Harri is an economist at the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University. He has been a member of the Stellenbosch Madrigal Singers since 2011 and took over managing duties, in partnership with Elsje Kemp, in 2013. Harri enjoys reading, making music, watching sport, and dining out.
Jolanda is employed as an engineer at Eskom. She is 29 years old and has been singing since the age of 2. When Jolanda is not singing or working, she enjoys jogging, scuba diving, playing guitar, gardening and the occasional well‐crafted beer.
Sandriëtte, previously a science teacher, is currently a homemaker, mother of a 1‐year old and a science tutor for high school learners. She has a passion for music and song and has been singing for as long as she can remember. Sandriëtte joined the Stellenbosch Madrigal Singers in 2013, making 2017 the 5th year that she has been a member of the group.
Carmen is a postgraduate engineering student, specializing in solar energy and the influence of weather conditions and dust on said energy. Carmen rejoined the Stellenbosch Madrigal Singers in 2017 after a 5‐year hiatus, but remains the baby of the group. When not working or singing, she enjoys reading, pottery and various other types of creative handiwork.
Jan is a lecturer in accounting at Stellenbosch University. He has been singing from a young age for, among others, the Durban Boys Choir, the Kwazulu‐Natal Youth Choir and the NWU Puk‐Choir. Jan currently receiving training at the Stellenbosch University music department and joined the Stellenbosch Madrigal Singers at the start of the year.
Mello Cello at the Arts Theatre
On one of the coldest nights of the year I GrandiVioloncellisti drew an almost full house at the Arts Theatre on Friday. These six cellists are Marian Lewin, Peter Martens, Cheryl de Havilland, Fiona Grayer, Odette Brand and Eddie Maclean and they all practice their art in South Africa.
The concert opened with yet another transcription of what is known as Albinoni’sAdagio although it was Remo Giazotto who developed the piece from two snippets of Albinoni. There are orchestral and vocal versions and tonight we heard a version for six cellos. It was a gentle start and the audience sat back to enjoy it. For the rest of the concert Peter Martens gave us lively and humorous information about each piece to be performed which was well received.
Max Bruch wrote a version of the Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra in 1880 and here we heard Eddie Maclean as the soloist. This Jewish prayer is a beautiful but intense work and it was given a sensitive treatment by the group.After Wilhelm Fitzenhagens Concert Waltz, a very light-hearted affair, we settled down to enjoy Allan Stephenson’s “Four for Six”; a work of four movements for six cellists. This Cape Town composer wrote this piece for the group in 1998. It opens with a very skittish movement of themes tossed around between the players. The second movement is pizzicato throughout and contains wonderful off-beat rhythms. This was followed by a movement consisting of many changes of mood including a short march section and the work ended with a jazzy, rag-time movement that had shades of Piazolla in it. This was a very satisfying work, enjoyed by both the players and the audience.
The second half opened with Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” that, unfortunately fell a bit flat. The ‘vocal’ part got lost in the accompaniment and only surfaced briefly. But we were then whisked into the bright sunlight of Bizet’s “Carmen Fantasie”. Here the seductive dances and songs mingled with the swaggering Toreadors as we experienced all the excitement of a Spanish fiesta.
The “Feierlichesstuk” from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin is a solemn piece that progresses to an intense climax into which sneaks a snippet of the famous Wedding March. The soloist here was Marian Lewin proving that you can still have the touch after fifty something years. It was a wonderfully rich piece of Wagner greatly appreciated by the audience. Wilhelm Kaiser Lindeman wrote an orchestral “Bossa Nova” that the musicians clearly enjoyed having fun withadding in extra sound effects by slapping rhythms on their instruments.
In 1900 Rimsky-Korsakov wrote an opera entitled “The Legend of the Tsar Sultan” in which a prince becomes a bumble bee and stings his villainous relatives. This is depicted in an orchestral interlude. On Friday Peter Martens opted to emulate a full desk of first violins with the rest of the group accompanying him. It was a nimble fingered ‘tour de force’ and fully justified the standing ovation.
The Beatles hit “Yesterday” written in 1965 completed the programme with each member of the group having a chance to play the tune. But we were not finished yet as Peter Martens gathered the group to play the theme from the film “1492 Conquest of Paradise” composed by Vangelis. This haunting melody was a perfect ending to a very enjoyable evening. I look forward to a return visit from I GrandiVioloncellisti
Dalene Steenkamp Brits
Ruan van der Vyfer
Reviews and artist info on previous concerts: