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W.A.Symphony Orchestra

 

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony is seldom heard in this neck of the woods. Prior to the weekend, its most recent performance here was as far back as 1999 when Vernon Handley presided over events. It’s a very welcome return.

 

In less than totally assured hands, the Fifth can send sound endless and dull –  a turn-off. But when directed by a master – and Douglas Boyd is most certainly in that category – then, with an orchestra very much on its toes, the result can be electrifying. To be frank, I can’t recall a presentation of the Fifth that moved me as much as that offered to a near-capacity house on Thursday. It was the chief offering in the WASO’s Morning Symphony series.

 

Beautifully expressive string playing gave point and meaning to the first movement, its deeply felt ideas building up to a magnificent climax. First rate oboe playing enhanced listening pleasure.  The second movement, essentially a dance to tricky rhythms, made for totally engaging listening.

 

In indifferent hands, the slow movement can sound interminable – but when there’s inspiration from the podium, as was the case on Thursday, it made for blissful listening, an impression enhanced by first rate work on cor anglais in a moving, beautifully stated contribution. The finale came across as buoyant, celebratory, upbeat. It was an exultant offering. Laurels, in particular, to David Evans for horn playing of finesse; it gave the stamp of distinction to the finale, an account to remember for all the right reasons.

 

In an auditorium filled to near-capacity, Boyd and his forces rose splendidly to Vaughan Williams’ symphonic demands. I’d like to think that in some way we cannot comprehend, the spirit of that much-loved composer not only hovered over the proceedings but raised a hand in acknowledgement of a job splendidly handled.

 

I hope the performance was recorded for later broadcast across Australia. It certainly deserved to be – and I hope that Douglas Boyd will be invited back to preside over further Vaughan Williams works.

 

As curtain raiser, we listened to Saint Saens’ Cello Concerto No 1. It’s a trashy, shallow work – but, in the hands of a master cellist ( and Li-Wei Qin is definitely in that category),  the concerto sounded far better than it in fact is. This is no small achievement on the part of the soloist. I very much hope we’ll hear this musician as soloist with the WASO again but in a work more befitting his exceptional skill in both technical and interpretative terms.

 

Rachmaninov: complete piano preludes: 1941 – 1942 recordings

 

Prelude opus 3 no 2; 10 Preludes opus 23; 13 Preludes opus 32

Moura Lympany (piano)

DECCA 482 6266 (2CD)

TPT: 76’ 42”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

She was christened Mary Johnstone – but because the name sounded too ordinary for an on-stage career, Miss Johnstone became Moura Lympany, the surname an altered version of her mother’s maiden name. And she was – and will ever be – the only musician to have recorded the complete piano preludes of Rachmaninov on, firstly, 78rpm discs, then on LP and, finally, on CD.

 

All the 78rpm recordings were made at DECCA’s West Hampstead studios during WWII. It was often a stressful experience. Editing out errors was not possible on 78 rpm discs. It was all-or-nothing.

 

If there was a slip of the finger, smudged pedalling, a fluffed note, a loss of momentum – a lapse of any sort – the prelude would need to be recorded again from scratch. At one particularly frustrating session, not a single prelude was deemed good enough for preservation. Sometimes, all would go well, at other times, a piece would sound below par and needing to be recorded again and again (and yet again) if considered necessary. It says much, then, for Lympany’s abilities that there’s not a dull moment; every piece sounds fresh and newly minted.

 

During the Blitz – like fellow pianist Dame Myra Hess in Hampstead –  young Moura would take shelter beneath her grand piano in the event of a Luftwaffe bombing raid. There were so many terrible happenings during these horror years. One morning in May, 1941, for instance, Moura, on her way to Queen’s Hall to record Cesar Franck’s Variations Symphoniques, found, to her horror, that the hall had taken a direct hit, leaving a pile of rubble.

 

True, some of her later recordings of these works have greater depth, others are approached in slightly subtler ways – but they all bear the stamp of distinction.

 

Throughout, Lympany sounds utterly in control, again and again surmounting with ease the sort of technical hurdles that would cause lesser players to throw their hands up in despair. Some more about hands: Rachmaninov’s were enormous and he wrote music to take advantage of this – to the despair of  musicians with smaller hands.

 

It is 76 years since Lympany’s Rachmaninov recordings first came on the market. They have weathered well. Brash, lilting, aggressive, sensuous, gentle, melancholy, introspective, suave – these and a myriad other moods are summoned up by a musician at the peak of her skills.

 

Stephen Siek’s liner notes are first rate. They make engrossing reading.

All-Mozart compilation

various concerto soloists

Symphonies 29, 33 & 35

Concertgebouworkest

Eduard van Beinum, conductor

Eloquence 482 5525  (2CD)

TPT: 147’ 11”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Mozart CD CoverNot the least of the many good things flowing from this re-issue of Philips LP recordings in the compact disc format is making available to an entirely new constituency of listeners the work of musicians of considerable consequence whose recordings of decades ago, for a variety of reasons, have, as it were, fallen through the cracks. The tireless Cyrus Meher-Homji continues this important work with a 2CD re-issue of an all-Mozart compilation of recordings that thoroughly deserve being brought back to life.

 

As a young teenager, I was given an LP recording of Hubert Barwahser playing on the now defunct Philips label. I still have it. Here, Barwahser sounds at his eloquent, articulate best in ensemble with another almost-forgotten soloist: Phia Berghout on harp in the Concerto for flute and harp.  Yet another musician richly deserving this resurrection is the formidably gifted English pianist Kathleen Long who in the mid-20th century enjoyed a dazzling career.

 

This is vintage Long.  Listen to her playing Mozart’s C minor concerto; it’s a joy from start to finish, blissfully free of fuss or frills.

 

Presiding over events from the podium is Eduard van Beinum, a first rate musician to which the players of the Concertgebouw Orchestra would respond time and again to provide some of the most satisfying and meaningful recorded music in mid-century Europe and further abroad.

 

Bram de Wilde is a fine soloist in the Clarinet Concerto. Tone quality is particularly appealing in the chalumeau register. The work unfolds near-flawlessly.

 

Van Beinum recorded Symphony No 29 in 1957. Sixty years on, it’s as relevant and stylistically meaningful as it would have been when first made available on LP.

 

This CD is all the more to be treasured because these works are the ONLY Mozart works which van Beinum recorded with the Concertgebouworkest.

The Clarinotts

Ernst Ottensamer, Daniel Ottensamer, Andreas Ottensamer (clarinets)

with Wiener Virtuosen

Mozart, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Ponchielli et al

DGG 481 19172

TPT: 56’ 50”

reviewed by Rosalind Appleby

 

“We know what our partners will do a millisecond before they do it”, says Andreas Ottensamer, the youngest member of The Clarinotts. “It’s a luxury you’ll rarely have with any other ensemble”.

 

The incredible cohesion between the three clarinetists is what struck me on a ‘blind’ listen to The Clarinotts album – that and their uncannily similar sound quality. It made sense when I had a closer look at the performers and realised it was Ernst Ottensamer in ensemble with his sons, the famous Viennese ‘Royal Family of the Clarinet’.

 

Ernst Ottensamer is being mourned around the world after dying tragically of a heart attack on 22 July. He was only 62. Ernst was principal clarinet in the Wiener Phiharmoniker from 1983 and founding member of the Wiener Blaserensemble and Wiener Virtuosen.

 

Ernst inspired a generation of clarinettists around the world, including his own children. His eldest son Daniel became co-principal clarinet in the Vienna Philharmonic alongside his father, and his youngest son Andreas is principal clarinet in the Berlin Philharmonic. Together, the three of them formed The Clarinotts, releasing their first album in 2009 and their second in 2016.

 

The 2016 self-titled album opens with Mendelssohn’s sparkling Concert Piece No 1 for clarinet, basset horn and orchestra. The brilliant duet was composed rather appropriately for the father-son duo of Heinrich and Carl Baermann. It is full of dazzling operatic writing and I was struck by the warm, full bodied sound of the basset horn and clarinet – and the driving energy of their playing.

 

The album’s repertoire traces Ernst’s career trajectory including his time in the pit of the Vienna State Opera with works like the trio Soave sia il vento from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and the Fantasy on themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto by Franz and Karl Doppler. Dance-style works also get a look in with Rossini’s La danza quoting from the overture to William Tell and the sentimental French-style waltz of Cantilene from Francaix’s Petit Quatuor.

 

Ponchielli’s Il Convegno has both sweetness and fire. Andreas and Daniel perform with extraordinary precision, their virtuosic runs, flourishes and dramatic rubato perfectly synchronised.

 

As you would expect, this is an album of great finesse and class, accompanied by none other than the Wiener Virtuosen, an ensemble made up of the section principals of the Wiener Philharmoniker. They are certainly some of the best players for the romantic/early 20th century repertoire that dominates the first half of the album.

 

Bela Koreny’s Cinema I is based on the plot of Paul Verhoeven’s film Basic Instinct and you can feel the intrigues and the tension in Ernst’s spooky bass clarinet and the wails of Andreas’ and Daniel’s clarinets over the top, accompanied by the Wiener Virtuosen with Christoph Traxler on piano. The bossa nova tune Morning of the Carnival by Luiz Bonfa was another contrast; slick and sultry.

 

A comment for clarinet nerds: check out the almost inaudible articulation from all three. It sounds like diaphragm articulation but it has the even attack of tonguing, generating sublimely clean playing.

 

The richness of this album is the synergy of three virtuosic clarinetists who really do seem to be of one mind:  it sounds like one person multi-tracking!  But what makes it really gripping listening are the energy and emotion the Ottensamer family bring to their music making. They really pull out all the stops in Olivier Truan’s unaccompanied trio The Chase and it’s an exhilarating conclusion to the album. Turns out, it is also a fitting final bow from Ernst Ottensamer; a testimony to a life spent sharing music with excellence and passion.

Unheard Mozart

 

 

Anthony Goldstone (piano)

divine art dda25051

TPT: 71’ 44”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Over the years, as I’ve listened to the recordings of Mozart by Anthony Goldstone, I almost invariably think of the biblical story of Ruth who, following in the wake of  those harvesting this or that grain, would find nourishment for herself and others from the scattered ears of corn or wheat. Ruth was a gleaner. So, too, in a very different context, was Goldstone.

 

Think of these snippets of musical thoughts, incomplete or abandoned ideas, scraps of paper with a scribble or two (meaningless to most but musicologically beyond price in some cases) –  which, in the minds of most, would be considered as so much rubbish to be thrown away.

 

In the biblical Ruth’s case, her gleanings sustained life – and in Goldstone’s case, tiny scraps of paper, sometimes a bigger piece left unfinished or unedited were re-animated. Here, Goldstone breathed life into what almost everyone else would have dismissed as inconsequential – to be thrown away with no thought given to the possibility it might be musical gold. What most others would regard with indifference, Goldstone saw as rich possibility.

 

And what fascinating miniatures these are: part, perhaps, say of a piece that would be carefully completed by Goldstone: a minuet perhaps – or a sarabande.

 

Mozart aficionados the world over owe an immense debt of gratitude to this remarkable man who with scrupulous care – and affection – brought to life what, in lesser hands (and minds), would simply have been left lying in the dust. His passing leaves us all the poorer.

 

Goldstone realised the potential of these snippets which others might unthinkingly have dismissed as worthless, ephemeral, expendable, barely worthy of attention. Wrong!

 

There is a delightful improvisatory quality to the opening Praeludium: the recorded sound quality is excellent in a piece which oscillates between slow introspection and virtuosic brilliance. It’s rather like an improvised cadenza. Glowing, golden tone and impeccably spun trills are fine features.  A number of pieces were found unfinished and – one senses a profound humility in this – lovingly, respectfully completed.