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South African orchestra invigorates old favorites

"The Cape Town Philharmonic, under its super-dynamic leader, Martin Panteleev, proved that orchestral warhorses, in the right circumstances, can come alive again."

Feb. 16, 2011




Palm Beach Daily News

"Martin Panteleev, is a fine leader, precise in his directions and passionate about interpretation"

"Panteleev knows how to follow a soloist, and made sure his charges did, too"

"Panteleev’s reading of "Sheherezade" was well thought-out and cleanly directed, and the trickiest moments, such as the rapid rat-a-tat brass rhythms in the final movement, passed muster."



Feb. 17, 2011


Sofia orchestra is fiercely elegant.

Byline: John Zeugner 


Worcester's considerable pan-Slavic population turned out in force Wednesday night at Mechanics Hall to celebrate Bulgaria's Sofia Festival Orchestra, perhaps Eastern Europe's newest, most energetic ensemble, led by the very charismatic composer/conductor Martin Panteleev. 

The program, appropriately enough, was heavy on Russian angst and bombast: selections from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor. Between those two thick layers rested Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. That might have been a respite of Scandinavian restraint and irony, but in pianist Terrence Wilson's virtuosic hands it, too, was given an all-stops-out Slavic treatment of manic ebullience amid lyric suffering. The crowd loved every minute of this Slavic musical tsunami. At the end the audience stood cheering, stomping, demanding an encore. 

In a beguilingly thick accent, Panteleev remarked, "It seems you want us to play more." He turned and led his mostly young, very gender balanced musicians through a supercharged rendition of Shostakovich's ferociously exciting "Festival Overture."

This Sofia Festival Orchestra comprised 67 musicians, but any doubt that the group could achieve full symphonic effect perished instantly in the opening whiplash chords of Prokofiev's Introduction to "Romeo and Juliet." Panteleev had stunning absolute control of the ensemble's dynamics; with an epic circular sweep of his left hand he could bring orchestra to a roaring crescendo, and then instantly dampen it to a barely audible pizzicota whisper. 

The cello and woodwind sections were particularly enthralling, achieving a supple, sumptuous sound in the second movements of the Grieg and Tchaikovsky pieces. Principal cellist M.V. Stoyanov is an extraordinarily gifted musician who achieved a mesmerizing dialogue with Wilson in the Grieg's furtive, calmer moments. Wilson's was a dazzling performance, and the audience went gaga at the end of the Grieg. 

Clearly the first chairs of the Sofia's woodwind section are world-class soloists. Flutist Iva Lubomirova spun out a luminous, utterly pure sound in the interior movements of the Tchaikovsky, as did V.M. Valtchanov (oboe), P.Y. Panteleev (clarinet) and K. P. Vladimirov (bassoon). Their work was flawless. Maestro Panteleev's grasp of Tchaikovsky's message seemed less solidly based. There were moments of searing intensity and moments of simply going through the motions, as if the American tour had taken its toll. 

The conclusion, of course, was pure shimmering frenzy. All told, a concert of fierce conviction. It was clear Martin Panteleev and the Sofia Festival Orchestra could summon red fire first and dead cats afterward on their home turf of Slavic compositions.


South African orchestral jewel

By Kristin Shafel     Tue, Mar o1, 2011

One of only three professional orchestras in South Africa and the first to tour the United States, the Cape Town Philharmonic appeared in their Kansas City debut last Friday night for a 500-plus audience at the Folly Theater for the Harriman-Jewell Series. Cape Town, with its conductor Martin Pantaleev and solo violinist Philippe Quint, put on a concert of accessible twentieth century works and a romantic Russian standard.

South African orchestral jewel

The concert opened with the spirited, breezy Johannesburg Festival Overture by William Walton. The orchestra started out with good rhythmic energy and well executed dynamic contrasts. Short phrases were neatly traded from one section to another, and the trumpet lines were especially crisp. Intonation was spotty however, and I wish the brass and woodwinds had been on risers for better projection. I had trouble discerning the “African” percussion towards the end of the piece. I did enjoy their rendition though, which was an appropriate and fun piece.

Barber’s tender Adagio for Strings followed Walton’s overture. Built on seemingly simple melodic and harmonic material, it is an achingly beautiful and extremely difficult piece to perform perfectly. The violins struggled with shifting in unison and matching vibrato on the first appearance of the main theme, but redeemed it on subsequent iterations. The violins recovered well from this common issue and the ensemble maintained a warm, enveloping tone and was balanced throughout. Cape Town’s cello section relished their turn with the main theme, bringing out its hauntingly melancholy character.

Grammy-nominated violinist Philippe Quint joined the orchestra for Korngold’s Violin Concerto, Op. 35—a piece rampant with tutti cinematic gestures and a solo violin part both technical and emotive. Quint was very concentrated and unruffled on stage, his body language minimally engaging the audience at best. However his highly accurate and clear, commanding yet nuanced tone immediately captured the crowd. Rapid spiccato technique, sweeping legato lines, the perfect amount of vibrato, and extended intervallic passages were all performed by Quint with cool prowess and excellent intonation. The ensemble was sensitive to their soloist, giving him room to ring out through richly colorful chords and well-controlled dynamics.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade, Op. 35 was last on the program. A bit of an exhibition piece, Sheherazade features every section through its several prominent solos. Intonation and rhythmic unison were off in the woodwinds occasionally, though their tone and volume control was strong, and sometimes the second violins and violas were lost in the louder, broader chordal moments. Perhaps at this point in the evening the group’s energy level and momentum began to waver, although Cape Town still and again displayed deft manipulation of dynamics and swift adaptation to the work’s mood and theme changes. Concertmaster Patrick Goodwin and principal cellist Kristiyan Chernev played their hefty solos admirably and expressively.

Conductor Martin Pantaleev was equal parts energetic and gestural, precise and restrained, and dynamic and dramatic. Pantaleev’s commitment to the performance was staggering. Often from memorization without a score, he was resolutely communicative and a veritable embodiment of the music. One highlight of the evening was simply watching him conduct.

Cape Town treated the audience to the lively Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein as its encore. The group’s energy was renewed on this piece, playing tightly with enthusiasm and physicality. I was impressed with this program of predominately twentieth-century works, and would have loved to hear another contemporary piece. Overall, Cape Town presented a pleasant and successful evening of music that awakened a curiosity in me about what more South Africa has to offer in arts and entertainment.

Harriman-Jewell Series
Cape Town Philharmonic
Friday, February 25, 2011

Folly Theatre
12th and Central Streets, Kansas City, MO

Top photo courtesy Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra


A warm work that is precisely realised

Article from:Cape Times (South Africa) Article date:April 26, 2010

SYMPHONY CONCERT, City Hall, Thursday, 15th; CPO conducted by Martin Panteleev, soloist Simone Lamsma: Mozart: Overture to Idomeneo, K.366; Khachaturian: Violin Concerto; Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique, Op 14. DEON IRISH reviews

IT IS always interesting to attend a concert directed by a conductor making his first appearance with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) on the City Hall podium. Cape Town being the musical village it is, one generally bumps into some player in the course of the week who will volunteer an opinion about the qualities of the new arrival.

Players can be extremely harsh critics, although they see things from a different perspective. On this occasion, however, I had heard nothing of the man by the time he strode on to the stage at the beginning of the concert.

"Purposeful" is a fairly useful adjective to describe his conducting approach. It was apparent in the opening overture, but even more so in the accompaniment that followed: Panteleev is focused entirely on the business of making the music happen, with an economy of movement, a lack of self-awareness and a restraint from the grand gesture that is wholly commendable.
It translates into orchestral playing that is crisp, responsive and well-balanced - as is apparent in the precise classicism of one of Mozart's own favourite works, to the revolutionary genius of the self-indulgent work by Berlioz. Which is not to say that Panteleev overlooks the musical; but one is left with the impression that the impulses of his heart are routed through his intellect and that nothing is ill-considered or spur of the moment.

He is himself a gifted violinist and a prize-winning composer, with three symphonies to his name. It is perhaps that perspective that compels in him an obvious desire to recreate a score according to the composer's own intentions. Mozart's opera Idomeneo premiered in Munich in 1781, for which he had the services of what he called the finest orchestra in the world - the combined resources of the Mannheim and Munich courts. It is a serious overture, without the feathery flounces of the Figaro or impresario examples of the genre. This was a taut and idiomatic reading that brought out the musical structure with distinction.

There followed Khachaturian's only concerto for the violin (1940), a companion piece to that for piano (1936), and for cello (1946). It is not a great work, but its overt orientalism provides much that is attractive.

Lamsma is a very fine instrumentalist and brought all of her artistry to the score, playing with fidelity and technical assurance, particularly in the spiky writing of the outer movements. The passage work of the final movement showed her spot-on intonation and easy bowing style.
But it was the lovely central movement that captivated, with Lamsma delivering its long violin arioso with serene phrasing, affectionately supported by orchestral wind and string contributions.

Finally, the great Berlioz symphony, a work of seminal importance. The programme note opined that the most astonishing thing about the work is that it was composed in 1830, only three years after Beethoven's death. It could have added that Schubert died in 1828, the year of his Ninth Symphony, which we heard a week ago.

This is even more remarkable when one considers that the same year - 1830 - produced Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and Reformation Symphony and Chopin's First Piano Concerto - and the two composers were younger than Berlioz by about seven years.

Panteleev led us through the complex score with a degree of caution.


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