Concert Review: Vocal Masterclasses – German Engineering Where You Need It Most On A Festival, Or Northwards Ho!

February 6, 2016



Final Concert Of Vocal Masterclasses 2016 – Johannesburg International Mozart Festival / Pianist: Annalien Ball / Northwards House, Parktown, Johannesburg


Watching anything in the elegant, magnificently maintained Northwards House is a special experience – such opulence so lovingly cared for makes the venue the equivalent of anything in which classical concerts are regularly hosted in London, Paris or Prague (something Johannesburg residents would do well to remember when ruefully commenting to international visitors that there is “no such thing” locally).

With the sumptuously gifted (though you wouldn’t know it from her low-key demeanour) Annalien Ball seated at a precisely responsive Steinway adorned with beautiful marquetry, the six singers on the shortlist to win a paid for year of teaching with Professor Josef Protschka of the Cologne Conservatory for Music and Dance, who was in attendance and performed alongside his charges in two pieces.

Protschka is known, as a teacher, for encouraging the separation of technique and expression, with a focus on the overall performance standard. This was evident in the first bars of Stephan Schalkwyk’s rendition of Schumann’s Den Grunen Zeigem, with the singer’s face and posture adding an extra charge to his vocal work. It must be stressed, though, that trying to find any shortfall in the technique of the singers in this concert would have been something of a fool’s errand: there were stronger areas in some individuals’ offerings, but everyone displayed outstanding discipline and adherence to the principles of their craft.

The six finalists comprised two sopranos (Goitsemang Lehobye and Cecilia Rangwanasha); a messo-soprano (Marcelle Steinmetz), two baritones (Eddi Mofokeng and Stephan Schalkwyck) and a bass (Prosper Makhanya), allowing for a degree of variety in the solo pieces and some well-matched ensemble work.

It will still fall to Professor Protschka, and Johannesburg International Mozart Festival driving forces Richard Cock and Florian Uhlig to whittle this group down to one they feel is worthy of receiving the prize, but based on the performance of 5 February, it may realistically down to a choice of two.

Among the sopranos, Lehobye is a better performer – expressive and emotive, and wonderful to watch – but Rangwanasha has astonishingly clarity throughout her considerable range, and appears to be able to switch gears from between the more sensitively sung passages and the dramatic high notes without any apparent effort or thought. Her take on Lehar’s Meine Lippen, Sie Kussen So Heiss was one of the highlights of the evening.

Of the men, both Mofokeng and Schalkwyk have strong voices and animated expressions, but the former’s greater consistency in terms of vocal quality, and a version of Figaro’s Aria by Rossini that was brought the house down at the end of the evening, should place him on the shortlist.

Watching where these singers step up to from this platform will be fascinating, as what they have achieved already is mightily impressive.