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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.

 

 

Sibelius Piano Trio

Yarlung Records 52630

       reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

As a child working towards a Trinity College of Music piano exam, I particularly liked a short piece – Arabesque – by Sibelius. It is a charm-laden, miniature delight and my first encounter with the Finnish master. It’s one of a considerable number of short pieces that poured from Sibelius’ pen. But how many of Sibelius’ little pieces come to mind as you read this?

 

Sibelius_YAR52638_FrontcoverDuring the interval at a recent orchestral concert, I asked a number of concertgoers at random which works of Sibelius they could call to mind other than the symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the vast works inspired by Finnish legends and Finlandia? No one – and these were folk who were regular and enthusiastic concertgoers – could call any to mind. Certainly, there’s work to be done to make people more aware of at least some of Sibelius’ neglected works.

 

Sibelius’ output as a child (his first piece is said to have been written at the age of ten!) and as a young man is astonishing. At least part of the reason is that he grew up in a home where music was an inextricable – and very important – part of daily life. His siblings played piano and cello. Jean was the violinist of the family. His hopes of becoming a violin virtuoso were never realised. He’d have had to commence fiddle study much earlier to have had a hope of succeeding in that field. As was the case of Schumann, Sibelius’ having to forgo a life as a virtuoso was a personal tragedy – but his work as a composer brought an enduring fame that could never have been equalled as a concert soloist, no matter how gifted.

 

In addition to this, this intriguing compilation encompasses music written by contemporary  Finnish composers whose names could well be new to most listeners living beyond the borders of Scandinavia.

 

Diego Schissi’s Nene, for instance, opens with a terrific, offbeat dance. It radiates gusto, with tricky rhythms and much pizzicato.  Listen to a background of quiet pizzicato across which runs a dream-like cello line. Later, the attention is drawn to the piano with its stab-like utterances. The movements are intriguingly titled: Jumping on the Walls, Dozing on a Hanger; Riding a Mosquito!

 

David Lefkowitz’s Ruminations calls up images of Middle East dances and what might be a folksy Yiddish extemporisation, desperately melancholy and introverted.

 

There’s charm aplenty in Sibelius’ Korppoo Trio. True, it’s not recognisably by the Finnish master: the work is too early for that. But its jejune melodies are beautifully played. The finale. is a jovial, three-in-a-bar knees-up with an obeisance to Brahms and much tinkling from the piano near the top of its range. One could think of it as a trial run for an ascent to greatness.

 

Consider this: at a similar age, Shostakovich was already well ahead in the originality stakes. Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written as a teenager:  his style was already fully formed. But with Sibelius, it was a case of good things being well worth waiting for.

 

Recordings like this don’t just happen. And those who have pooled their resources to this excellent end deserve real praise.The focussed work of many has been called upon to bring this CD into being: executive producer Ann Mulally, 100th Anniversary sponsors Randy and Linda Bellous and, crucially, the Sibelius Trio (Petteri Iivonen, Juho Pohjonen and Samuli Peltonen). This initiative is to mark the100th anniversary of an independent Finland.

 

 

 

 

Silver Sands Guitar Trio

 

Perth Town Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

 

Outside, it may have been raining with a teeth-chattering-chilly wind as well – but Perth Town Hall provided a cosy, pleasantly warm environment as we listened to a charm-laden program featuring three classical guitarists of high accomplishment, collectively known as Silver Sands Guitar Trio: Jonathan Paget, Craig Lake and Nathan Fischer.

 

Each of the Silver Sands players is a guitarist of high (and deserved) reputation in a solo capacity. But collectively, they have submerged their individuality to create a new multi-person identity – and it was in this latter capacity that we listened to a fascinating and intriguing compilation.

 

Azariah Felton’s Tintinyungu was given its world premiere performance. Its gently flowing, charm-laden measures give way to more assertive moments. I’d like to listen to it again.

 

The composer points out that the title means ‘‘to challenge or compete with” and the piece shows this by pitting the players against one another “through different time signatures and rhythmic groupings”. It’s fascinating fare.

 

I liked Francis Kleyjans’ Imagerie, Hommage a Debussy, a charming obeisance and clever allusion to Debussy’s unique style. Another delight – Gnatalli’s Toada from Brazilian Popular Suite in an arrangement by Laurindo Almeida – has an engagingly danceable  quality.

 

Two movements from Suite Retratos provided intriguing listening, too. First movement, entitled Ernesto Nazareth, came across as stylish with a first class blend of tone. Chiquinha Gonzaga is a busy miniature, a bustling delight.

 

Nigel Westlake’s Shards of Jaisalmer was exquisitely presented, a most attractive composition but needing some judicious pruning; it seemed too long for its material.

 

A delightfully laidback Rio Rhapsody by Gnatalli arr.Almeida was the afternoon’s curtain raiser: a splendid introduction to the afternoon.

 

Earlier, we listened to the W.A.Guitar Society Orchestra conducted by Jane Darcey.

Millenium Rag was a pleasant, charmingly lazy, tango-like offering and Darcey’s own River Rocks made for most appealing listening as well.

Pacifica Quartet

 

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

In its original and accurate sense, chamber music, by definition, is intended for performance in a small space – perhaps, say, in the lounge room of a suburban home or the entrance hall of a mansion or, at most, in a small commercial space. Intimacy is its crucial requirement. As a critic who has long since lost count of performances devoted to such music, I can say that during those many years, the number of times I’ve listened to high-end chamber music in the sort of space which the composers might have had in mind for this or that work, is very, very low indeed. Commercial considerations demand continuation of the status quo. It’s virtually non-negotiable.

I dare say that box office takings at concerts featuring musicians who are paid very high fees are a necessary requirement.

 

Photographer Matt Landy

But there was a delightful departure from this state of affairs at a concert given in a suburban Perth residence in a conventionally-sized room. The Pacifica Quartet, US-based, was to give a performance at the Concert Hall on the night following. But to raise funds for bringing music and musical instruments to young people living miles from cities and so far away in some cases that even radio reception is uneven or non-existent, the Pacifica ensemble agreed to participate in a re-creation of an old-style chamber music environment..

 

Bringing the musical action so close to the listener can be an extraordinary experience, not the least of it being the strikingly different sound that reaches the ear, for instance, the unmistakable but only-very-rarely encountered grainy quality as bows bite strings. A first encounter can – and often is – a startling and even off-putting experience. I have known some listeners who find the experience so grating and unpleasant that they find it necessary to leave the room. In larger performing spaces such as purpose-built auditoriums, this is a non-issue.

 

Some liken close listening to bow on string to the sound of a finger nail scraping down a blackboard. Its metallic, ratcheting sound can be offputting.

 

So it was a fascinating experience to listen to Beethoven’s late quartet – opus 135 – under these conditions. Of all Beethoven’s chamber music produced in the twilight of his life, opus 135 would be one of the most accessible. To be frank, I’d have preferred to listen to it in a larger space. Although this was a rare opportunity to listen to a music masterpiece under conditions similar to those in Beethoven’s time, I found the nearness of the instruments eventually oppressive. But it was a rare experience and I’m so glad I had that opportunity to experience chamber music as it might have sounded in the composer’s day. I think every enthusiastic chamber music follower might benefit from an insight of this sort if only on a one-off  basis.

 

There was more than Beethoven on offer. We listened, too, to utterly different music in the form of  Astor Piazzolla’s Four for Tango. This, too, came across as a sonic gem to cherish.

 

My there be more of these events, fascinating in their own right – and beneficial in a very real and important way for young musicians in remote places. Bravissimo!

Black Swan State Theatre Company

 

Endgame (Samuel Beckett)

State Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photographer Daniel James Grant.

 

 

He’s like the spirit of malevolence and bitterness: blind, marooned in a chair from which he almost never moves as he dispenses – generously –  bile and self-hatred.

 

He’s not the sort of person anyone would willingly want to befriend. But Clov – played with masterly skill by Kelton Pell – has reserves of patience and compassion that are wildly out of proportion to the constant stream of unpleasantness that issues from Hamm.

 

Pell is star of the production; his characterisation is wonderfully, and satisfyingly, complete. There’s understated artistry in his every gesture, the slightest semi-sentence. He makes of Clov a man of angelic patience, never for a moment – not even a second – gruff, abrasive, dismissive. His every word and gesture are informed by a quietness – a calmness – that make him the very antithesis of Hamm.

 

Clov climbs a ladder.(He never sits – anywhere, any time.) He places a foot on the first rung – and waits a while before bringing his other foot to the same rung – and so on. In a sense this typifies Clov – quiet, unhurried, gentle with a near-angelic forbearance.

 

Despite given every reason to,  he NEVER raises his voice. There’s quiet understatement to his every word – the absolute antithesis of the monstrous Hamm., – but although viscerally unpleasant, one cannot help feeling pity for this dreadfully stricken being.

 

Hamm’s handicaps are awful;  his abrasiveness, his virtually complete lack of empathy add to the sheer unpleasantness of the man.  But – and this is the crucial question – how many others would act differently to awful Hamm in his dreadful predicament.

 

Who would uncomplainingly accept blindness and additional incapacity? How many would accept being weighed down by such hideous handicaps? It is so easy to be judgemental – but how many in a similarly awful  situation would act differently?

 

Then there are Nell (Caroline McKenzie) and Nagg (George Shevtsov), both legless, each living in a bin. Although on a much smaller scale, their parts require consistent skill – and on this score, they both deliver wholesale.

 

This is a five-star offering, much due to first rate direction by Andrew Ross.. I hope it’s seen by thousands. It deserves to be.