This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Mixed Blessings

opinion

MUSON Festival's first classical music concert turns out to be a mixed bag of European masterly offerings and local African compositions, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports.

If it's just about conforming to the original compositions, Thomas Kranitz is first rate. Ditto the accompanying pianist, Babatunde Sosan. After all, they are by all standards accomplished instrumentalists. While the former is the MUSON Centre's artistic director, the latter is the Onikan, Lagos-based cultural centre's resident pianist.

Consider therefore a live performance by this duo before an Agip Recital Hall a rare treat for a MUSON Centre habitué. On offer: Ludwig van Beethoven's Variation on a theme by Mozart (from "The Magic Flute" for violoncello and piano). Then, there is Dmitri Shostakovich's Sonata for Violoncello and Piano op 40.

Surely, the exploits of the phenomenal Mozart could not have been unnoticed by Beethoven. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the latter could have been so fascinated by the former's famous offering, "The Magic Flute". It's obvious that this composition is the MUSON Festival's pièce de résistance or, perhaps, its theme song.

Fiddling the violoncello seems like a second nature to the German-born Kranitz. As for Sosan, the piano keys might as well have been playthings. Given their obvious proficiency and adherence to the discipline of stage performance, it is little wonder that they have been chosen to interpret this Beethoven's composition.

Shostakovich's hybrid style, which he developed after an interlude of influence by two fellow Russian composers Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, seeps through the notes of his "Sonata for Violoncello and Piano op.40". This composition also reinforces the sombre mood of this first half, which usually precedes a 15-minute intermission.

Enter the second segment of the concert. Tagged the African Classical Music half of the concert, it magically dispels the sobriety of the previous half. It features the MUSON Diploma African Music Class. Led by Sir Emeka Nwokedi, the choir's promise seems evident right from their appearance on stage clad in simple powder-blue Yoruba tunics and trousers with matching headgears.

Sir Emeka's lustrous pedigree naturally ups the audience's expectations from the youthful choir. But, alas, the choristers' gusto sometimes outpaces their abilities. If the Igbo song, "Onye Ga Gba Egwu" (Who Wants to Dance?) is an exciting entrée to this segment, the subsequent song proves more entertaining.

The concert drifts towards the chorals with exciting renditions of Sam Ojukwu's Igbo language composition, "Teta" (Wake Up) and Derrick Esezobor's Ijaw composition "Ibike", which loosely translates as "Be Good to Your Maker". Seeds of doubts soon begin to sprout here and there about the choir's integrity when the voices of the soloists frequently fail to rise above the din of the voices.

A medley of highlife tunes further loosens up the ambience of the concert. Featuring such nostalgic tunes as "Omo Pupa" by Victor Uwaifo (arr. by Emeka Nwokedi), "Asiko L'aye" by Sunny Ade (arr. by Albert Oikelome and Seun Owoaje) as well as David Aina's tribute to Lagos life, "Eko Akaete", it begins to feel more like a highlife party.

The party feeling lingers into the conclusion of the event, sponsored by the telecommunications company Etisalat.

- This concert held last Sunday at the Agip Recital Hall of the MUSON Centre from 6 p.m.

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