Central movement was loveliest of the three

Cape Times / 27 October 2015

Deon Irish*

SYMPHONY CONCERT, October 22. At City Hall; CPO conducted by Perry So, soloists Goitsemang Lehobye (soprano) and Pallavi Mahidhara (piano); Ndodana-Breen: Three Orchestral Songs on Poems of Ingrid Jonker; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op 18; Prokofiev: Symphony No 7 in C sharp minor, Op 131. Deon Irish reviews

THE opening concert of the spring season was a sold-out affair, and one which generated a deal of enthusiasm – not least because of the first performance of a significant addition to the catalogue of South African orchestral works.

It was a night for ovations, since the work that opened the programme also garnered a storm of applause for composer, soloist, conductor and orchestra. Ndodana-Breen has written an important suite of orchestral songs based on three of Ingrid Jonker’s poems (Die Kind, Ek herhaal jou and Met hulle is ek), to honour this important South African artist 50 years after her death in the sea at Three Anchor Bay, on 19 July, 1965.

The writing is assured and the inspiration apparent: in which regard, one is struck by the concept being less overtly socio-political than might have been expected, given much of Ndodana-Breen’s recent oeuvre. The first of the poems is, of course, reactive to a specific and highly political event, the shooting of a child in Nyanga and the music is, entirely appropriately, the most overtly Africanist in its careful synthesis of expressly Xhosa-derived musical elements. But the latter poems are more concerned with Jonker’s existential responses to her personal circumstances: the sense of alienation in Met hulle is ek ; the lost intimacy mourned in Ek herhaal jou.

This central movement was, I thought, the loveliest of the three: a dreamy evocation of the sensually tactile, commencing with a languorous, intertwining canonic duet for bassoon and flute and exploring the emotional sub-text in writing that was surprisingly satin, given the angularity of its five beat time signature. The vocal line captures the mood in its repetitive, falling sequences and, despite the considerable climax the overall impression remains languid.

The final poem is pure despair, penned not long before the author’s suicide. It is written, paradoxically, in an urgent 9/8 pulse, employing recurring rising figure that has the structural regularity of a passacaglia, but hints at the obsessive repetition of the manic.

Ndodana-Breen expressed himself delighted at the careful preparation demonstrated by So and the fluent performance of his piece by all concerned.

For those experiencing it de novo, the work was engrossing, but marred by Lehobye’s incomprehensible Afrikaans diction. A great pity, for the voice is warm and flexible

*(This article included reviews of other works by Rachmaninov and Prokofiev which were on the programme that have been omitted in this copy for this website).