reviewed by Neville Cohn
During her long life as violinist, Faith Court did much to enhance the music life of Western Australia. Even at the venerable age of 90 years, the Court matriarch kept her fingers in trim by daily practice on her violin. And her philanthropy and that of her family continues to support the arts, with contributions to scholarships of $100,000 over the last decade.
At the weekend, we heard the chamber orchestra made up of Conservatorium students and named after Mrs Court in works by Mozart, Sculthorpe and Shostakovich. A number of members of the Court family were present in the audience.
It was in the second movement of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony that the Faith Court Chamber Orchestra was heard to best advantage. Here, there was splendid attack and follow-through as the youthful string players’ bows bit the strings of their instruments to reveal the essence of some of the most anguished writing in the canon. Certainly, the emotional intensity that informed the playing here augurs well for this youthful ensemble as the musicians were taken through their paces by conductor Jon Tooby.
In the slower movements that open and close the work, though, one felt a need for a more uniform tonal sheen, especially from the higher strings – and a more smoothly fluent unfolding of the piece, tricky, of course, at slow speed but not impossible. On the evidence of the evening’s offerings, however, there’s good reason to believe that with commitment and focussed rehearsal this is a realisable goal.
Jonathan Paget was soloist in Peter Sculthorpes’s Nourlangie for guitar, strings and percussion. Paget brings way-above-average understanding to this work, his doctoral thesis having been an exploration of the language of Sculthorpe’s music for guitar.
It’s a many-facetted work that calls for high musicianship on the part of all concerned and Paget acquitted himself admirably here in a performance that was in the best sense tonally satisfying, intonationally exact and interpretatively probing.
There are small but crucially important parts for percussion and Daniel Hall, in particular, rose to the occasion in his skilled use of the mallets on a set of bongo drums, in the process providing excellent rhythmic underpinning. And Elizabeth Lyon skilfully conjured up simulations of thunder from a suspended metal sheet.
In his concerto, Sculthorpe was much influenced by the swarming bird life around Nourlangie in Kakadu National Park – and accompanying players were much on their mettle in glissando swoops up and down the strings of their instruments as they simulated the cries of Kakadu birds.
In the outer movements of Mozart’s Divertimento in D, Tooby set a blistering pace, so much so that there was little opportunity for the music to breathe at phrase endings. As well, at so rapid a tempo, note streams lacked clear definition. And rather more lift to the phrase might well have enhanced listening pleasure in the central andante.
Faith Court grew up in England in a home full of music. Her father – Sydney Wardley – was a piano tuner and cellist. When Faith was very young, she would sometimes accompany her father to Portsmouth to visit Nelson’s flagship Victory to tune the keyboard instrument in the famed admiral’s cabin.
Later, the family migrated to Australia where Faith’s evolving career saw her playing the violin in cafes, accompanying silent movies or in orchestral pits for musicals. She also played in the WASO under the direction of conducting greats such as Malcolm Sargent and Thomas Beecham. And during the war years, Faith Court worked tirelessly as a member of concert parties or orchestral ensembles to bring music to the troops.
Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn