The Bible speaks of a prophet being without honour in his home town. Not so for pianist Anton Nel who was born in Johannesburg and is a graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand. Anton Nel is now based in the USA where he has a flourishing career as both an academic and as a recitalist. When he returns home to South Africa, particularly to Johannesburg, he plays to full houses, audience appreciation and well deserved critical acclaim.
On Saturday 1 February Anton Nel played a recital for the combined audiences of the Johannesburg Musical Society (JMS) and the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival (JIMF).
Starting with a Mozart work, the Sonata in D Major, K311 (Piano Sonata No 9), Anton Nel charmed his audience from the outset. Remarkably free of any personal irritating mannerisms while he performs, Anton Nel, comes across as businesslike and precise. His playing is the same. Perfect technique meets a studied interpretation of the work which Mozart emoted as “Allegro con spirito” and “Andante con espressione”. This style of play was the norm for the rest of the recital.
American composer Alan Fletcher (born 1956) is a colleague of Anton Nel’s and the two of them work together on the Aspen Music Festival where Alan Fletcher is CEO. Fletcher composed a piece inspired by Paul Verlaine (19th century French poet) poem “Green”, a poem which has been set to music by Faure and Debussy amongst many others, both as vocal pieces and as tone poems. The work is tonal. Most striking, however, was not the music, nor the playing, but the technology used by Nel in this work. The music is on an electronic note book and the page turning is controlled wirelessly by a foot control next to the pedals. The days of page turners for pianists is obviously numbered.
Schumann’s Sonata No 2 in G Minor, Opus 22 followed. I am quite sure that after the intense interpretation we were given that Anton Nel needed the interval break before returning for my personal favourite of the evening, the Debussy Estampes (Etchings), a series of three short pieces, Pagodes, inspired by the Javanese Exposition of 1889 in Paris, La soiree dans Grenade, a Spanish sounding work, and finally, Jardins sous la pluie.
The final work was the Sonata in C Major (Waldstein) by Beethoven. This is a well-known and popular work and it was magnificently played by Anton Nel. He received a standing ovation and the audience would not let him go until he had performed two encores, a Schumann piece followed by a Chabrier piece, rounding off an evening of great musical pleasure.
One of the things that struck me in this concert was the large number of small children present. There were five children in my immediate vicinity, all of them probably of primary school age. They were mostly very well behaved. What struck me was that these children reflected the full range of the racial diversity of this country while the adult audience was mainly white. This pleased my heart measurelessly. The future of classical music in South Africa is going to be assured by all its diverse fans.
Anton Nel is playing two concertos at an all Mozart concert for the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival at the Linder Auditorium on Tuesday 4 February 2014 at 19:30. Note the start time which is earlier than most classical music concerts.
The next JMS concert will take place on Sunday 23 February 2014 at the Linder Auditorium (17:00) and will feature Peter Bruns (cello) and Annegret Kuttner (piano). This marvellous duo will be playing Schumann’s Adagio & Allegro Opus 70, Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G Minor and Brahms’ Cello Sonata in F Minor, Opus 99.