Category Archives: Live Performance

Royal Schools Music Club – a 90th birthday celebration



Callaway Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn


In many instances, people are now living years longer than was the case, say, a century ago. Many now survive to 90 years of age  – and older; it is no longer considered particularly remarkable. The opposite applies to music clubs. Most have died years ago. But there are exceptions – such as the Royal Schools Music Club which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary in fine style. If its birthday concert is anything to go by, there’s every reason to believe it will not only reach its centenary in glowing health but carry on its fine work further into the future.


This birthday celebration was a finely balanced offering: serious, profound material leavened by moments of brief, tongue-in-cheek frivolity. It was a delightful mix.


Lyn Garland: step forward and take a thoroughly deserved bow for a faultless ushering-in of the program with an account of a Faure Impromptu. I cannot recall hearing this fine pianist to better advantage, capturing, as she did flawlessly, the essence of this so-elusive music.


Shuan Hern Lee gave us a seldom heard, engaging Tchaikowsky miniature: Invitation to Trepak. Afterwards, he was joined by his father Yoon-Sen Lee in a version for piano duet of the same composer’s evergreen Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.


We also listened to a first performance of a charm-laden obeisance to the Romantic era: Holly Broadbent’s Sonata in A minor, played in high style by Paul Wright (violin) and Anna Sleptsova (piano). They also presented a fine reading of  Danza No 1 from de Falla’s Three Cornered Hat – and Sleptsova played Ukrainian Melody by compatriot Myroslav Skoryk as well as Rodion Shchedrin’s A la Albeniz, a cheeky obeisance to the great Spanish composer.


And there was, too, a charming interlude from the Palm Court era with Trio Apasionado playing Chaly by Andres Linetsky.


Whether frivolous or profoundly serious, this was a beautifully balanced presentation that throughout struck just the right note – pun intended!


By virtue of its ability to remain relevant – in a most meaningful and engaging way – the Royal Schools Music Club has not only survived (whereas almost all other music clubs in Australia have gone the way of the dodo) but shows no sign whatever of fading from the music scene. And that is as remarkable as it is heart-warming.

The Grigoryan Brothers (guitars)

WAAPA Music Auditorium.

reviewed by Neville Cohn


As a young piano pupil, I was particularly fond of the pieces contained in Tchaikowsky’s The Seasons, especially the Barcarolle. But at a crowded Music Auditorium at WAAPA at the weekend, we listened to the Grigoryan brothers in a rarely encountered version for two classical guitars of three other of Tchaikowsky’s delightful miniatures.

I savoured every moment of this delightful curtainraiser.

The rapid, nimble essence of February was evoked to the nth degree as was the finesse with which the bittersweet measures of October were presented. These three arrangements, played with such understanding of mood and style, would, I am sure, have brought an approving nod from Tchaikowsky himself had the shade of that great composer hovered over the proceedings at the weekend.

Yet another delight was a transcription for two guitars of Handel’s Organ Concerto No 3. How, I wondered, would Handel’s much loved masterpiece fare in a version for guitar duet? It seemed such an improbable undertaking – but I need not have been concerned. The transcription was done with such finesse that, in its altered guise, Handel’s sublime concerto sounded altogether right, entirely valid in sonic and stylistic terms – and exquisitely played.

I especially admired the players’ subtle rubato in the slow movement and the quite delightful insouciance that informed the finale.

As the novelist Mrs Gaskell famously opined about Trollope’s novel Framley Parsonage, I’d have liked the concerto to go on forever. The meticulously detailed playing, the near-flawless ensemble and the sheer beauty and clarity of sound provided a performance informed by artistry of the highest order. It was an offering that could have held its own before even the most demanding international audience.

Indeed, the musical chemistry was such that the playing invariably sounded the product, not so much of two very fine musicians playing together, but of a corporate music persona where individuality is sacrificed in the interests of that persona. And the aesthetic results of that were impressively in evidence. Perfect ensemble was apparent in even the subtlest rubati.

A fascinating compilation also included a delightfully laid back account of Lovelady’s Incantation No 2 – and a beautifully considered Sarabande from Towner’s Suite for two guitars.

Both players have written works for themselves – and what musical pleasures were in evidence there. In works which teemed with intriguing, novel and ingenious ideas, delightful tone colourings and a gratifying sense of spontaneity, the duo reached for – and touched – the stars. Slava Grigoryan’s Fantasy on a Theme by William Lawes was a charm laden offering, music that throbbed and pulsed, a perfect introduction to a memorable evening.

This was one of the most satisfying recitals I’ve listened to this year, a splendid offering presented by two profoundly disciplined, exceptionally gifted and stylistically impeccable siblings. Bravo!



Paul Wright (violin) Sacha McCulloch (cello) Faith Maydwell (piano)

Christ Church Grammar School Chapel

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Despite its wealth of melody and episodes of stunning, high drama, Tchaikowsky’s Piano Trio in A minor is only very seldom heard in live performance. More’s the pity. I dare say the formidable demands the work makes on the players are a factor militating against frequent airings.


Then there’s the material making up the work which can cause musical indigestion. It’s an over-abundance which calls to mind those giant hamburgers that are periodically advertised by fast food stores where a single serving contains enough meat, cheese and bacon to make two or even three ‘normal’ hamburgers. So, with one important reservation, is Tchaikowsky’s Trio. Unlike the burgers, however, Tchaikowsky’s Trio is far from injurious to health.


It’s a work brimming, indeed overflowing, with frankly magnificent concepts. But, like that giant hamburger, there’s simply too much of it to be taken in on a single occasion, not least because it brings a very real risk of musical indigestion.


This notwithstanding, the Magellan players did the work proud. Their level of ensemble is most impressive as is their staying power. Indeed, nearing the close of this marathon work, the players sounded as eloquent and stylistically assured as in the work’s opening moments. Passionate intensity and magnificent tone colourings – whether in episodes of dramatic boldness or moments of gentle, introspective reflection – were pointers to highest musicianship, the players invariably loyal to the composer’s seemingly limitless inventiveness.


Earlier, we listened to the first public performance of Duncan Gardiner’s A Thousand Cranes Beat Their Wings. It has a delightful, orient-tinged immediacy, written with a very real understanding of instrumental potential, as in a beautifully soulful cello utterance early on.  Whether couched in gently melancholic terms or moments of intensity, it’s clear that Gardiner has something worthwhile to say in instrumental terms. A Thousand Cranes deserves to be taken up by other musicians. I’d like to listen to it again – and again.


I am quite sure I am not alone in looking forward to this splendid ensemble’s next program.


Stereo Action


Defying Gravity

WAAPA Music Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn


By just about any yardstick, Stereo Action was a thundering success. True, at times, fingers in ears were necessary to mitigate, at least to some degree, the massive sonic blasts which punctuated the evening’s proceedings. Perhaps the area of sound absorbing panels on the auditorium walls needs expansion.


With the linking commentary of the ever-ebullient Tim White who has done so much to make Perth a significant centre for top level percussion performances, the WAAPA students (with some additional sonic muscle provided by young student percussionists from UWA), gave ample evidence of focussed ability.


With so many players giving of their best, it is perhaps invidious to single out individuals for special mention. But it would be ungracious not to particularly praise the players who gave an account of white-hot intensity of Fire in the Sky – led by the extraordinary Marcus Perrozzi who also wrote the work.


IMG_0191Perrozzi’s skills have been honed in recent years as percussionist with Cirque de Soleil – and on Saturday, he was at his impressive best, leading the players on to the stage from the rear of the auditorium while hurling massive sonic blocks at the audience. This was a riveting experience in both sonic and visual terms.


Earlier, we listened to what, in the 1930s, would have been startlingly adventurous to Western ears: a major work scored for percussion instruments only. I wonder what Edgard Varese would have thought of the avalanche of Western percussion works which came in the wake of his barrier-breaking Ionisation.


In a program that contained much flexing of sonic muscles, Xiaowen Pan’s gentle offerings of Chinese traditional melodies on both Chinese flute and oboe provided unfettered listening pleasure.


Another unforgettable offering was the first ever public performance of Tao Issaro’s Trikaal which began in stygian darkness with a prolonged and unyieldingly ferocious assault on a drum surface. The sheer intensity of attack and the fierce focus required to maintain momentum brought this listener to the edge of his seat.


Laurels to two young percussionists, both on vibraphone, who reached for – and touched – the stars: Ben Albert in Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse and Tom Robertson in the first movement of Emmanuel Sejourne’s Concerto for Vibraphone. In the most articulate and meaningful way, these young percussionists are what Defying Gravity is all about: training and mentoring the best of young musicians who will take their skills to a wider constituency, bringing honour not only for themselves but the dedicated teachers at WAAPA who make this happen.

Mozart fortepiano duets


Geoffrey Lancaster and Alan Hicks (fortepiano)

Eileen Joyce Studio, University of Western Australia

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Exquisite music offered in one of the world’s most beautiful performing spaces made this homage to Mozart an experience to cherish.


Sadly, Mozart’s music for piano duet is seldom heard in public. Rarer still are presentations of these works on the fortepiano, the instrument for which Mozart wrote. More’s the pity as these works contain some of the Salzburg Master’s finest ideas. And the chief joy of the recital, presented by Geoffrey Lancaster and Alan Hicks, was their account of the Sonata in F, K497.


As Lancaster pointed out, just about the only other piano music for four hands that could be considered in the same league as K497 is Schubert’s superb Fantasie in F minor.


In their account of the sonata, Lancaster and Hicks presented the work as if drawing on a shared source of inspiration in even the most minute rhythmic subtleties and tonal colourings. It was a performance of highest order, the players shaping to a myriad of subtleties like fine wine to a goblet.


I imagine that if, by some magical time travel, the shade of Mozart had hovered over the proceedings, I believe he’d have given this account of K497 a nod of satisfaction.


How very differently these works sound on the fortepiano, a sonic world radically different to that of the modern piano. Thankfully, with musicians of the calibre of Lancaster and Hicks, audiences can be transported back in time to a sound world quite unlike the one in which the modern piano dominates.


In performance at this sold-out event, there was clearly a high-level meeting of musical minds – and the aesthetic dividends of that endeavour were substantial. Stylistically impeccable, each movement unfolded at such a level that critical antennae, usually operating at full extension, were here quite lulled.


Lancaster, who is as versatile as he is gifted, not only wrote the excellent program notes but also shared some of his vast knowledge of the subject in comments from the keyboard.


A memorable program included not only two other sonatas (K358 and K521) but also the Fugue K401, the intricacies of which were expounded with consistent authority.

Indeed, the seeming ease and clarity with which some of the fugue’s most tricky contrapuntal ideas were expounded, were a model of what fine part-playing is all about.


Are these works, as played by this gifted duo, on compact disc? If not, I do hope that measures are in place to preserve this magical offering.


Feather-light cupcakes, ribbon sandwiches and other dainties as well as liquid refreshment were on offer at interval. The only reservation about this otherwise memorable experience concerns the state of the glass wall of the studio which clearly needs cleaning to allow concertgoers an unfettered view of a splendid botanical vista.


Monies raised by this event are devoted to RSMC scholarships for gifted young musicians.