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.

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Andor Foldes (piano)

 

Andor Foldes (piano)

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas

Op 13 (Pathetique); opus 28 (Pastorale); opus 31 No 2 (Tempest); opus 53 (Waldstein); opus 57 (Appassionata);opus 81a (Les Adieux); opus 101; opus 109

DGG Eloquence 482 5854 (2CDs)

TPP: 79’26” & 74’09”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

BEETHOVEN_Sonatas_Foldes_masterBeethoven’s Les Adieux sonata is not for faint-hearted pianists. Some of it is the sound-equivalent of finest petit point embroidery done at top speed. Few can do so without, as it were, pricking a finger or two. But Foldes is up there with the best, traversing the finale’s measures without a stumble or three. Foldes is certainly no slouch here.

 

It’s sonatas such as these that Foldes would frequently include in recital programs together with music of Bartok – a painless way to introduce new audiences to what at the time would for many have sounded astonishing, unexpected or even bizarre to listeners in, say, Kenya or Bloemfontein.

 

Foldes also gave recitals in Bulawayo and Harare (then known as Salisbury) in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), then thought of as the bread basket of Africa but now a hobbled wreck of a country – a basket case –  due to the arrogant, brutal and possibly mentally unbalanced incumbency of Robert Mugabe who, when he finally shuffles off to the oblivion that he so richly deserves, leaves a country laid waste due entirely to his hideous misrule. But even now, as the country sinks ever deeper into ruin, there are still other African leaders who extol the excellence and wisdom of Mugabe’s ‘vision’!

 

There’s first rate treatment of opus 101, its immensely challenging measures making it a closed book to most pianists. I’m listening to the fugue as I write this. With what effervescence, clarity and momentum Foldes imbues the notes. It is like a paean of joy. In opus109, its quasi-extemporisation quality is conveyed to memorable effect. It often borders on the ecstatic.  And it is so refreshingly free of exaggerations that lesser players offer too often in the name of  ‘interpretation”.

 

Some of the sonatas were originally recorded by Foldes on LP as far back as 1959. Their transfer to CD is timely. It will enable a new constituency of listeners to experience Foldes’ artistry. And for those coming to Beethoven for the first time, this fine compilation might well be an ideal first foray into the Bonn master’s wondrous creative territory.

Songs without Words

 

Slava Grigoryan & Leonard Grigoryan (guitars)

ABC Classics CD 481 5101

TPT: 53’ 34”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Grigoryan Brothers - Songs Without WordsIf ever you’ve come home after a really tough day at the office, perhaps an accidental wiping of a crucial report that cannot be retrieved and/or encountering a maddening traffic jam on the way home – what might one do?.

 

A few soothing gins and tonic or something a bit stronger might be just what’s needed to soothe frazzled nerves – but there’s another, frankly better,  way to chill out (without any risk at all of a hangover): put the Grigoryan brothers’ newest CD on – and relax to a joint effort that’ll work its magic in mere moments.

 

Seventeen tracks enshrine some of the world’s most loved melodies.

 

Take your pick: Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, Elgar’s Chanson de matin (a charmladen delight) and a Seguidilla, the bracing urgency of which rivets the attention. It’s from

an arrangement for two guitars of the full set of de Falla’s Seven Spanish Folk Songs.

 

I particularly like the gently lulling quality of Nana which, Falla has pointed out, was a song his mother used to sing to him when very young.  These delights are given near-flawless treatment, not least the first of the set: The Moorish Cloth. It’s beautifully negotiated with its crisp rhythmic underpinning. There’s a lively, lovely account of the Jota, its rhythms irresistible – and the Cancion is finely considered.  The very challenging Polo needs a greater sense of urgency, though.

 

The brothers’ account of Tchaikowsky’s None but the Lonely Heart would surely charm even the grumpiest bird from a twig – and there’s an exquisitely languid account of Ponce’s Little Star.

 

There are sure to be tracks which listeners will happily play over and over  – and over – again. Don’t take my word for it. Get yourself a copy – and feel those nerve knots relaxing.