What’s On in Cape Town | 24 October 2012

Albert Combrink is a self-professed 20th century pianist, rejoicing in performance of Gershwin and Porter.  His latest offering, as part of the Baxter’s Morning Melodies, is thus a slight detour.  Having celebrated the 300th anniversary of the birth of Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin with Chopin 200 he now brings us Campanella – a performance incorporating pieces from Chopin’s contemporary, Franz List.

Campanella is a reference to bells – Combrink’s main theme – and an exceptionally complex piece written by Liszt entitled La Campanella.  Magical piano pieces by both composers are woven together with the sounds of bells and charming bell-related tales in a presentation indicative of careful though, throughout research and warm passion.

Combrink is a gentle presence on stage and enraptures the audiences wit his talent as his hands fly across the keys.  Employing a naturally playful humour and charm he engages the audience emotionally with historical anecdotes and by doing so further enriches the music.

He may have dubbed it an unusual piano recital, but classical music was written with narratives and emotions in mind – so perhaps a more fitting title would have been “Piano Recitals as they Should Be”.  And there is an intrinsic personal tone to the show, evident from the very beginning in Combrink’s sincerity and warmth, and the simple personal touches such as the explanation of the origins of his shirt and even the loving tribute to his piano teacher.

The intimacy of the recital would have been complemented by a smaller theatre, and it would have been nice to have some proper – if minor – lighting on stage rather than have the lights on throughout the theatre auditorium.  The performance. called for a bigger space though, because of the excellent turnout.  It is heartening to see such great support for classical music although – no doubt greatly  due to the 10:30am weekday time slot – it was almost entirely made up of aging white folk.

There were however a few schoolchildren in the audience, most of whom were clearly enjoying themselves.  It would be uplifting to see more schoolchildren attending such events.  This is a great way to bring classical music to a difference, younger demographic, and with Combrink interweaving the music with historic sketches, the learning experience is two-fold.

Whether old or young, there is something new for everyone to learn.  Campanella winds through history, exploring stories and sounds, while evoking emotion and memory.  Combrink, plays a host of great pieces from Chopin and Liszt, setting your ears ringing and your mind ticking back to reminiscences past as he brings alive bells in every shape and form.

Claudia Hauter

Die Burger | 25 September 2012

Insomnia: A Nocturnal Voyage in Song
William Berger (Baritone) and Albert Combrink (Piano)
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church – Greenpoint

During a newspaper interview the late Marita Napier once lit up a cigarette. “How can you smoke and sing?” asked the shocked young journalist. “Technique, darling. Technique”, said the opera diva in her typically laconic manner.

And technique is precisely what the British Lyric Baritone William Berger displayed brilliantly when he delighted an appreciative audience for more than 90 minutes. Only a dry mouth and an intermittent cough and splutter gave away that Berger was suffering from a stubborn cold.

The voice is well-schooled, focused, slender, light and warm with a fast vibrato that falls well on the ear. Especially in the shimmering middle-high register it really comes into its own.

The cleverly compiled programme, in celebration of Berger’s first Solo album, covers a large spectrum, from the Viennese classical era to the contemporary. It comprises 17 songs that tell the tale of a man in love experiencing a sleepless night. It starts with Mozart’s Abendempfindung and ends with Morgen by Ricahrd Strauss. In between there is Debussy, Ravel, Faure, Schubert and quite a few songs by Wolf, for whom the singer obviously has affection. A personal favourite was Oh! Quand je dors by Franz Liszt, sung with an exquisite legato and toe-curling falsetto. Berger’s ability as an interpreter is very good and he always is up to the musical demands, whether it be dramatic or drifting lyrically. And his operatic encores at the end were fun.
Albert Combrink’s accompaniment was sensitive, supportive and never overpowered. The church shrank to the size of a lounge with ten or so standing lamps which contributed to the nocturnal mood.

My own negative criticism is that Berger spoke too much, too fast and often not audibly in between the numbers. Hopefully we will soon be able to enjoy this comfortable, charming and truly gifted singer again. The leading Gramophone – magazine calls him one of the best young baritones in the world. No wonder.

– Charl van Heynignen

The Monday Missile | June 2012

– something rare and not just a little entertaining. – A simple setting for something so rich. – It’s a well conceived and staged performance. – Louise Howlett is a consummate singer and performer Just a glance through any gig guide in our city’s many entertainment publications and you will see a hundred and one music happenings spread throughout the city. Very rarely though are these actual staged performances, and even more rarely do they ask an audience to focus on anything more than just the music. On Saturday evening, however, I may have reacted to just another listing in the aforementioned gig guides, made a last minute booking and made my way to the venue without too much expectation. Little did I know I was about to be treated to something rare and not just a little entertaining.

On entering the Baxter Theatre’s Golden Arrow Studio, the walls are bedecked with posters from the cinema, sadly A4 sized. Real posters from the movies are becoming rare and hard to find, but of course as with most visual history, abundant on the internet. On the stage is a piano, a music stand and a microphone. A simple setting for something so rich.

I know Albert Combrink more as a classical pianist, and in this regard he is very accomplished. But in Cinema Serenade he teams up with Louise Howlett and together they take us on a journey through music used and written for the cinema. Okay, movies if you prefer. Cleverly compiled and starting from the decade of the thirties to the present, we are asked to reach into our memories and guess (in most cases) the film in which the song, or composition was used, or specially written for. To make it just that little more special, the music genres are mixed. Opera, pop, new age and jazz are all thrown in to keep us guessing. And no, this is not a weekend pub quiz. It’s a well conceived and staged performance. Louise Howlett is a consummate singer and performer. Her inflection through the songs conveying not just the right emotion, but with voice soaring in all the right places and softer, sympathetic tones well placed, I feel at home with her performance. Combrink too gets his chance to shine (no pun intended) with some beautifully played interludes. Starting with Debussy’s Clair de Lune and later with Michael Nyman’s The Heart Asks Pleasure First (guess the film).

As someone who takes pride in my knowledge of film, which I regard as an art form, I was challenged and left pondering over just how much I did not know, and just how much has yet to be learned about cinema and it’s serenades.

– Clifford Graham

Biz Lounge News | June 2012

– Louise Howett (the lady with a voice like an angel) and Albert Combrink (the pianist with magic fingers) make the perfect duo.– The show… is definitely one to go and watch. Louise Howett (the lady with a voice like an angel) and Albert Combrink (the pianist with magic fingers) make the perfect duo. Cinema Serenade is an ode to all the classic songs that have featured in the very best movies. (Louise also bluntly tells us that they are all songs that she loves to sing.) It was interesting to see how many songs I thought came from a certain movie, but in actual fact were in so many others.

t was a tantalising journey through the ages, although I only managed to catch up round about the 1990s, but thanks to my mum I had a running commentary of where all the other songs came from. But as she sings you can almost hear everyone in the audience thinking to themselves “oh my word I know that song, but from where?” Before singing a song Louise gave the audience various bits of information about the movie that the song came from and then continue to woo us with her songs. Afterwards, the audience was asked to tell her from which movie and year the song was. This audience interaction was not only entertaining, but also really got you thinking. (I’m quite sure many audience members suddenly realised they were getting old as well.) There were songs from Casablanca, Titanic, The Shawshank Redemption, Moulin Rouge and many more. (Those are also a few answers, so if you win a box of Smarties it’s my pleasure). I don’t want to give away too much as it will spoil it for you. The show runs until 16 June at the Baxter Theatre and is definitely one to go and watch. Even if it is simply to remember the classic movies that once stole your heart – before special effects and 3D. Read the Original review on the BizCommunity Website.

– Jordan Scot

Cape Argus | 5 June 2012

“Old School Magic” – “A lovely treat for lovers of movie music” – “Howlett’s voice is robust without being overpowering”

– Theresa Smith

What’s On in Cape Town | 15 June 2012

– I thoroughly enjoyed Howlett and Combrink’s move to highlight the nuanced emotion that songs provide in cinema. – Howlett’s supple soprano sashayed through arias – Her range and skill and her easy, pleasant interpretation of the music was aurally opulent – Howlett and Combrink soared through jazz from the 1940s and 50s with excellent arrangements and superb skill – Howlett quaintly embodied the likes of Judy Garland and presented a particularly pleasing jazzy arrangement of ‘My Favourite Things’ in a programme that continued to show off Howlett’s range and versatility and Combrink’s impressive technique.

Kelly-Eve Koopman