Magellan

 

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.

 

L’Elisir d’Amore (Donizetti)

 

W.A.Opera Company and Chorus

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

In more than half a century of attending opera productions here and abroad, I cannot  recall so frankly delightful a production of Donizetti’s comic masterpiece. What, I wonder, would the composer have thought of his opera being set in the Australian outback during WW1 with the male chorus on horseback kitted out as cavalry?

 

Simon Phillips has done wonders with the work, underscoring its comic dimension to a gratifying degree and giving the opera as a whole a freshness of conception in visual terms that clearly – and understandably – delighted a capacity audience.

 

It scores high on the ‘zany’ gauge. Horses are made of what looks like cut-out corrugated cardboard. The same goes for dogs and sheep. And sets are the perfect backdrop for on-stage comedy in an outback setting.

 

It was an inspiration to cast Rachelle Durkin and Aldo di Toro as the leads. Each was perfectly suited to the role in both vocal and theatrical terms. And as a duo, the operatic chemistry could hardly have been bettered. It sizzled.

 

Durkin has a priceless comic gift which, allied to a voice in top form, makes her an artist of formidable ability. She was in A1 form as Adina.  Aldo di Toro, too, was in splendid fettle, reaching for – and touching –  the stars. He is perfectly suited to the role of Nemorino.

 

Marco Nistico was a most convincing Dr Dulcamara, that shonkiest of snake-oil salesmen, a purveyor of  extremely dubious remedies for just about any ailment. And Jennifer Barrington was a delightful Gianetta. Laurels, too, to Jose Carbo who wsas in fine form as Belcore.

 

From the pit, Stuart Stratford presided over a reduced-size WASO. Tempi were almost invariably sensible and workable. Adam Mikulicz played, beautifully, the bassoon introduction to Una furtive lagrima, the singing of which quite rightly brought the house down..

 

Of the women’s chorus, this: the singing was delightful, the ladies seeming positively to embrace their roles, underscoring the comic dimension of the work with gusto. The male chorus did well, too.

 

 

 

Cirque de la Symphonie

 

W.A. Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

In more than thirty years of attending WASO concerts, many of them novel and unexpected, I had not encountered anything remotely like the astonishing and often delightful goings-on of an unforgettable excursion into a circus world.

 

With the orchestra positioned far back on stage, the latter significantly expanded into the auditorium, conductor Guy Noble presided over events with a steady and reliable beat.

 

A very clever lighting design simulated the interior of a circus tent.

 

Nerves of steel, absolute confidence in one’s physical ability to shimmy up and down ropes and silks while placing what must surely be immense strain on muscles and ligaments, the circus acrobats took the audience into an unforgettable world of grace, daring – and danger.

 

This was a catalogue of acrobatic marvels from Christine van Loo doing wonders with aerial silks as we listened to the eerily ghostly measures of Saint Saens’ Danse Macabre to two heavily muscled blokes – Jaroslaw Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski –  definitely not the sort you’d want to get into an argument with. They demonstrated stunning control of hand balancing to the accompaniment of Sibelius’ Finlandia.

 

Elena Tsarkova was a frankly brilliant contortionist in a waltz from Khachaturian’s Masquerade  And she was joined by her husband Vladimir Tsarkov in a delightful offering to music from Tchaikowsky’s Swan Lake. As a duo, they astonished and intrigued in a series of extraordinarily rapid costume changes. This, too, brought the house down.

 

In his own right, Tsarkov was the focus of gleeful laughter in linking offerings that were an hilariously comic delight, not least due to a face that seemed capable of  registering a seemingly endless range of expressions. Tsarkov is also a first rate juggler.

 

A muscled Vitalii Buza flew through the upper reaches of the venue’s space as if jet propelled.

 

This was a WASO concert to relish –  and for the very best reasons.

 

 

A Perfect Specimen (Nathaniel Moncrieff)

 

Black Swan Theatre Company

Studio Underground

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Fascination with human disfigurement is as old as mankind. That archetypal figure, The Bearded Lady, who’d come to town as a star of this or that travelling freak show, was a source of endless curiosity. In some – perhaps most – cases, the Bearded Lady would have been a fraud aided by a skilled make-up artist – or, very rarely –  it might have been the real thing.

 

In the opening moments of Nathaniel Moncrieff’s play – A Perfect Specimen – we see Julia Pastrana seated, her face almost entirely obscured by a scarf over the much publicised beard which can barely be made out.  But, while in conversation with her husband cum manager Theodore Lent, the latter leans towards the seated figure and carefully removes her beard and headgear to reveal an attractive young women with an unblemished visage.

 

What is one to make of this?

 

With nothing about this mentioned  in an otherwise informative and helpful program booklet,  I imagine that at least some, if not many, of the audience would have assumed that the ‘bearded lady’ was nothing of the sort, a charlatan, a not uncommon state of affairs in many, if not most, of these bizarre travelling shows that reached their highest popularity in the late 19th century.

 

What was NOT explained in the program booklet was that, apparently, the removal of scarf and beard was deliberately decided upon to allow the play to proceed without visual distraction. But surely, at least some of those in the audience would have come to the conclusion that the Bearded Lady was a fraud – not the real thing. And this would give an altogether different perspective on the play.

 

Shortly after the performance had ended and while in the adjacent parking garage, I spoke to three theatre goers at random. Each told me they’d assumed the central character was not the real thing at all but a fraud (opined one) or a confidence trickster (said the others).

 

This notwithstanding, the play is genuinely fascinating with Adriane Daff as a  touching figure, whose dilemma is exacerbated when she falls pregnant. If, because of this, she’d had any hopes of being allowed to give up her theatrical work, they were dashed. Her appalling husband would not hear of it. Shortly after giving birth, both mother and baby died. Incredibly, Lent – whose awfulness must have seemed boundless to those who came into contact with him – arranged that the bodies of both mother and child were mummified. And then, he used the mummified bodies to coax even bigger audiences to pay for entry to gawp at this dreadful sight.

 

Adding to Julia’s misery is the knowledge that her faithless husband is having an affair with Marian Trumbull played by Rebecca Davis as the travelling show’s acrobat.

 

Frances Danckert’s set design fits into the action perfectly. Tatty, bedraggled side-drapes look as if they might have been found in some charity bin – and the circular, revolving stage also looks as if it hasn’t be swept for weeks, perhaps months.  There’s an all-encompassing, seedy drabness that is theatrically perfect. And Joe Lui’s lighting design cleverly underscores the visual tattiness of the set.

 

 

 

Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky); Album for the Young (Tchaikowsky)

Simon Tedeschi (piano)

ABC CLASSICS  4811963

TPT: 77’44”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

TedeschiIf Mussorgsky had not written Pictures at an Exhibition, it is very likely that the  drawings and paintings by the composer’s friend Victor Hartmann would have faded into obscurity long ago. But Mussorgsky’s musical responses to his mate’s pictures have given the latter an immortality they don’t really deserve. The music is immensely more satisfying than Hartmann’s often-prosaic drawings. Now, Mussorgsky’s work has become a staple of the repertoire not only as a set of piano pieces but also in various orchestral guises.

 

I’ve lost count of the number of performances of Pictures I’ve listened to over the decades – and Tedeschi’s recording is well to the forefront of these. It eschews virtuosity for its own sake and it’s clear that much thought has been devoted to mood and tone colouring.

 

Tedeschi very effectively evokes the sinister, malevolent nature of Gnomus – and

solemnity pervades his account of The Old Castle. Here, Tedeschi clothes notes in beautifully mellow tone; the playing has an unhurried, soothing and near-hypnotic quality.

 

There’s a delightful, peekaboo quality of children playing and quarrelling in Tuileries. And in Bydlo, the simulation of a lumbering, heavy, creaking ox cart is entirely convincing as is Tedeschi’s account of the delightfully delicate, chirping nonsense that is the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks.

 

In Goldenberg and Schmuyle, there’s a most convincing contrast of moods in turn supercilious and wheedling. And in Limoges, the market place, where there’s much raucous bargaining between housewives and stallholders, the presentation is beyond reproach, as it is in Mussorgsky’s take on the catacombs of Rome.

 

Also on record is Tchaikowsky’s Album for the Young. Frequently, one or other of this set of 24 short pieces is played by children at local eisteddfodau. Tedeschi plays them beautifully.