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W. A. Symphony Orchestra

WASO Chorus/ St George’s Cathedral Consort

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Ravel’s Sheherazade doesn’t feature frequently in concert programs. It’s formidably difficult to bring off successfully – and over the decades, I’ve sat through some sadly deficient accounts of  this masterpiece. But I am happy to say that at the weekend, Ravel’s score flashed into frankly magnificent life.

Siobhan Stagg

At every level, excellence was apparent. Asher Fisch’s direction was beyond reproach – and the highest praise must go to soprano Siobhan Stagg who sounded as if the music had been specially written for her. It abounded in enchanting vocal subtleties and flawlessly shaped phrases. This was artistry of the rarest kind, sonic heaven, an offering that would surely have moved even the grumpiest of concertgoers. I look forward very much to listening to this most impressive soprano again.

Indeed, just as Mrs Gaskell once so memorably said of Anthony Trollope’s novel Framley Parsonage, I wished this performance would go on forever. And, near-miraculously, even the compulsive clappers who had earlier sabotaged Mozart’s Symphony No 40 by bursting into implacable applause between movements, in the Ravel work the applause brigade was stunned into respectful silence here – a considerable achievement.  I’d gladly have listened to Sheherazade all over again, not least for choral singing of impressive order. This would be ideal material for a WASO CD. Master flautist Andrew Nicholson was at his persuasive best here.

I was relieved, as I’m sure others would have been, that there was no intrusive applause during the Ravel performance, hand clapping that broke out like an unsightly rash between movements of the symphony. Despite this irritation, though, the skill with which Fisch and the WASO presented the inner movements and the finale of Mozart’s magnificent work, enabled the listener to experience the composer’s miraculous ideas to the nth degree. Bravissimo!

Poulenc’s Stabat Mater is music of a very different stripe. It’s been around for nearly 70 years – but it will never be numbered among the composer’s most loved works. This was the first time ever that the WASO had programmed it. And under Fisch‘s direction, the work unfolded near-faultlessly. There was powerful, dramatic treatment of Cujus animam as was the case in Quis est homo. Stagg was at her most powerfully intense in Let me be wounded. Laurels in particular to the WASO Chorus and St George’s Cathedral Consort who sang very gently and so clearly in Let my heart burn. This was a most meaningful change of mood and a fine contrast to an intensely dramatic Vidit suum.

The Hot 6

New Orleans Hot Jazz
The Sewing Room, Wolf Lane

reviewed by Neville Cohn

If it was jazz, New Orleans style, you were after, then The Sewing Room in the CBD’s Wolf Lane was the place to be.

Jam-packed with aficionados, many standing as they bobbed and swayed to rhythms belted-out by musicians of The Hot 6,  it was emphatically evident that this ensemble knew very well how to deliver the goods – and it did so with immense elan. What style and energy the players brought to their performance. They delivered the goods big time. It was the real thing – and without a dull moment from go to whoa..

From time to time, the players stepped down from the venue’s tiny corner-stage and walked in procession about the crowded venue as I listened, fingers in ears, to jazz classics presented at often-dauntingly high decibel levels. Considering how very crowded the venue was, it’s surprising how the ensemble managed its rounds of the room without bumping into anyone, especially Anthony Dodos carrying an immense Sousaphone wrapped around his body like some enormous brass anaconda.

I particularly liked The Hot 6’s presentation of Sheik of Araby. It glowed with splendid tone, not least from Adam Hall’s trumpet, its playing like a golden thread through the evening, It held  the attention from first note to last. This was especially so, too, in St James Infirmary Blues, the piece that Louis Armstrong made so famous. And it was certainly in good hands at The Sewing Room. This, like so much on the program, radiated authenticity.

Throughout the evening, Bronton Ainsworth did wonders on drums. His offering was rhythmically immaculate.

Let’s Get it On was another great jazzy gem. And Kate Pass, in a number of pieces, did well on both trombone and double bass.

This was a splendidly exhilarating program.

W.A.Symphony Orchestra


Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


On Saturday, Shostakovich’s Festive Overture was informed by a sense of immense gaiety, an ideal way to launch an orchestral program. Brass calls and woodwinds in fine fettle brought the overture to genial, pulsing life. The joie de vivre that lies at its heart was evoked to the nth degree by visiting Israeli conductor Dan Ettinger, a conductor who knew exactly what he was doing. The roar of approval that greeted the conclusion of the work was thoroughly warranted.


Ettinger has conducted opera at Covent Garden and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. He has also made a DVD of Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas directed by Achim Freyer as well as conducting the Ring at Tokyo’s New National Theatre.


Unlike its heyday when it featured in the repertoire of just about every pianist in Europe from Liszt down, Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G minor is seldom heard these days. On Saturday, the featured soloist was Argentine Ingrid Fliter, gowned in black with a floral motif. After some initial blurring and slips of the finger, the soloist retrieved the initiative, marshalling Mendelssohn’s floodtide of often ferociously taxing notes with gratifying skill and elan.


Violas were in particularly fine fettle in the slow movement with Fliter revealing its introspective, lyrical essence with very real understanding. And in the finale, the soloist gave us a scintillating account in a way which allowed the composer’s ideas to be heard in the most meaningful of ways. From first note to last, Ettinger took the WASO through an ideal accompaniment.


Warm, protracted applause was rewarded by a perhaps overlong encore – the first of Chopin’s published waltzes – played with a flair and fluency that informed the music with a delightful buoyancy.


There wasn’t an empty chair – with many standing – to listen to Tim White’s first rate pre-concert talk, brimming with fascinating fact. For those standing further back, though, there was a need for greater sound amplification.

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


FluteAristotle had a poor opinion of the flute. “It does not have a good moral effect. It is too exciting”. But if, through some miracle of time travel, that ancient philosopher had come along to the Concert Hall, I’d like to think he would have been so impressed by the worth of Nielsen’s Flute Concerto and so charmed by the skill of both soloist and orchestra that he’d made a point of going backstage afterwards to shake the hands of both soloist and conductor  – and ask for their autographs.


Nielsen’s Flute Concerto is not for faint-hearted flautists. It is ferociously difficult, treacherous at every turn – and it needs a master of the instrument to reveal its many subtleties.  I cannot recall ever before encountering a more exciting account of Nielsen’s work than Andrew Nicholson’s performance at the weekend.


It was a tour de force by a flautist privy to the concerto’s every secret. And judging from the torrents of applause that broke out at the concerto’s conclusion (as well as, irritatingly, after the first movement), the capacity audience was of like mind.


Playing his superb, golden flute as if to the manner born, Nicholson reached for the heights with phrase after flawless phrase.


In turn elfin and insouciant with beautifully spun, sustained trills, flawlessly essayed arabesques and an enchanting aerial buoyancy, Nicholson was consistently impressive. He also had the advantage of a first class accompaniment as Asher Fisch took the players through a dauntingly tricky score.


Sibelius’ emotionally dark tone poem Tapiola will never head a list of orchestral favourites; it’s very seldom heard in contrast to, say, Finlandia or Pohjola’s Daughter. But it is most certainly worth an occasional airing. Its brooding quality was most meaningfully evoked with strings and brass in impressive form.


Two days before the 100th anniversary of Debussy’s death, we listened to the Master’s

Nocturnes. I particularly liked the skill with which Fetes was offered, coming across as some wild, exotic dance, music that inflames the imagination. Laurels to the brass section which excelled itself. Earlier, we listened to Nuages (Clouds)  as Fisch and his forces very impressively evoked its mysterious, eerie atmosphere. It was a feast of sonic impressionism. In Sirenes, sopranos and altos of the WASO Chorus were positioned on what seemed an uncomfortably small on-stage area as we listened to its gentle, wordless singing, very slightly off-key.


It’s an odd fact that Ravel’s La Valse, that most danceable of works, was rejected by Diaghilev (while impresario for the famed Russian Ballet) because he felt it wasn’t danceable enough! Ravel was so deeply offended, he never spoke to Diaghilev again.


It was all stops out as Fisch took the WASO on a passionate journey through Ravel’s opus. It was a performance that set the pulse racing. Bravo!

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Veronika EberleThere was a near-capacity audience  to listen to Veronika Eberle making her WASO debut as soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Glamorously gowned in yellow, she played on a Stradivarius violin –  known as the  Dragonetti and dating from 1700 – on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.


Stylistically, Eberle’s playing was impeccable, her skill on the fingerboard beyond criticism. Bowing technique and phrase-shaping were masterly. But  listening from a seat at the rear of the front stalls, one sensed a need for rather more carrying tone in the upper reaches of the range, particularly when playing softly and needing to stand out from the accompanying orchestral sound. But this was to a degree compensated for by the delightful, silvery quality of tone that Eberle coaxed from her instrument.


Defying concert convention, the audience burst into sustained applause at the conclusion of the first movement. This is, of course, contrary to standard practice – but this was really a very minor departure from the norm when considering that when the Beethoven concerto had its very first ever performance in 1806, the soloist – Franz Clement – at the same point in the work entertained the audience by playing one of his own compositions performed on one string of the violin while holding the instrument upside down!  Compared to that circus-style desecration, the applause that broke out at the same point of the performance on Friday is absolutely pardoned.


Eberle’s golden-toned account of the lengthy cadenza was impeccable.


I cannot too highly praise the quality of orchestral accompaniment. It was a joy to the ear, with Asher Fisch coaxing consistently meaningful responses from a WASO in great form. It augurs well for the oncoming concert season. The introduction was informed by an altogether appropriate magisterial quality; it sounded entirely right, so much so that if, by some miracle of time travel, Beethoven could have been present at the performance, I’d like to think he’d have gone backstage afterwards to shake Fisch’s hand and perhaps ask for his autograph. Horns, trumpets and kettle drums were in great form, the musicians consistently on their mettle.


Incidentally, it’s seventy years since the concerto was first performed by the WASO – with, as soloist, the unforgettable, magnificent Ginette Neveu.


There was also a well-attended and fascinating pre-concert talk by Marilyn Phillips in the terrace-level foyer.