Monthly Archives: April 2001

The Mikado (Gilbert and Sullivan)

The Mikado (Gilbert and Sullivan)



Royal Carl Rosa Opera Company
Regal Theatre

reviewed by Edmund Percy


What unalloyed pleasure it was, for once, to experience a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta devoid of the ‘improvements’ visited upon it since copyright expired, thus allowing producers a free hand to ‘interpret’ the work in any way they think fit. This production of The Mikado is a reversal of that trend, a lovingly fashioned presentation which makes use of Gilbert’s original prompt book to get as close to authenticity as possible. By today’s standards, where high tech know-how enables producers to create lavish effects undreamed of by G & S, Carl Rosa’s 2 & S makes use of – by today’s standards – modest décor in a deliberately old-fashioned way. Scenery, recreated from old photographs of an early production, is of the cardboard cutout sort. Entrances and exits are, to modern eyes, rather unimaginative with most of the protagonists coming on stage from centre-rear. Costumes, though, are uniformly magnificent – and the singers they clothe are, for the most part, splendid interpreters of both words and music.

There are no weak links in this production. It would be more accurate, perhaps, to suggest that the players bring varying levels of excellence to their efforts, with star of the production unquestionably Simon Butteriss. As the ridiculous Koko, he brings the house down, generating a kind of theatrical electricity as he romps about the stage. His cavortings and malleable face which mirrors a comic range of expressions, are frankly inspired; in years, I cannot recall enjoying a G & S portrayal as much as this. The cast’s women are exceptional, too, whether in solo roles or in ensemble, whether as “three little maids from school” or the larger chorus, all a model of what synchronised singing is all about, with the clearest of diction – absolutely essential if Gilbert’s razor-sharp wit is to be savoured to the full – and a faultless feel for style..

The obligatory love interest is provided by Ivan Sharpe and Marianne Hellgren who both bring a winning sense of innocence to their characterisations as Nanki Poo and Yum Yum. Another scene stealer is Nuala Willis as Katisha, long on the shelf and desperate to marry, if not Nanki Poo (her prime target) then anyone else. There is artistry and to spare in bringing the role to life, some vocal weakness notwithstanding, a characterisation fleshed out by a repertoire of facial expressions (ranging from astonished outrage to horror) that might rival those of Marcel Marceau.Peter Ellis, known to an enormous international TV audience as Chief Superintendent Brownlow in The Bill, is here another bigwig – the Mikado himself. But for all the skill brought to bear on the role, Ellis seemed not quite at home in this pseudo-Nipponese incarnation. Then, too, he is so inextricably linked to his Bill role that it was difficult to view him as any other than the Chief Superintendent playing at G & S.

So many of the ingredients crucial for success in music theatre terms – production, casting, vocal and instrumental ability as well as spot-on evocation of mood – were here in secure equipoise. A delightful production.

COPYRIGHT © September 2001 ­ Edmund Percy






Master Series No. 4 W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Master Series No. 4




W.A.Symphony Orchestra
Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Edmund Percy

If there was a sense of occasion at the W.A.Symphony Orchestra’s 4th Master Series concert, it was entirely warranted. It is not often that a program contains two Australian premieres with, as concerto soloist, one of the world’s leading cellists – and a first half devoted entirely to music emanating from the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) with both conductor and concerto soloist hailing from that part of the world.

David Geringas has made a specialty of interpreting cello works by modern composers; his international reputation to a significant sense rests on these performances. He has, unquestionably, a marked flair for music of recent vintage, with a finely-honed technique guided by a first rate musical mind. This combination of gifts enables Geringas to make even the most challenging works seem both musically logical and approachable. This was certainly the case in Peteris Vasks’ concerto. But this is not to suggest for a moment that Vasks’ concerto is in any sense light-weight. On the contrary, it is a work created with the utmost seriousness of purpose, a response in sound to the cruelty of Soviet domination of the Baltic states of which both Vasks and Geringas had experience.

Understandably, there is much about the concerto, especially at climactic points, that has an intensity that inflames the imagination. And that sense of anguish that informs so much of the writing brought one face to face, as it were, with the composer. In response to rapturous applause, Geringas played, as encore, “two pages” from Vasks’ Book for unaccompanied cello. Here, too, the master cellist scaled Olympus, dipping his bow in the stuff of high inspiration to produce a stream of sound that had a near-vocal quality. It was musical magic.

Although Veljo Tormis’ Overture No. 2 is not the sort of music I’d travel a long way to hear again, there was no doubting the technical skill brought to bear on the instrumentation. The score, one felt, might have been used to better purpose on, say, the sound track of a film noir, than in its own right at an orchestral concert.

An account of Schubert’s Great Symphony (No 9 in C) made for rather less uniformly satisfying
listening, largely due to conductor Arvo Volmer’s penchant for over-enthusiastic tempi. Especially in the “Andante con moto”, there was a good case, surely, for allowing it to unfold in a more expansive and reflective way to allow its many felicities to register to better advantage.


Totally Huge New Music Festival 2001


W.A. Academy of Performing Arts Music Auditorium

reviewed by Edmund Percy



It’s recitals such as this that make an initiative like The Totally Huge New Music Festival thoroughly worthwhile for audiences in search of the musically novel. With the exception of John Cage’s Experiences No. 1 and Lutoslawski’s frequently aired Variations on a Theme of Paganini, the entire program could well have been largely – or even entirely – new to most of those at the Conservatorium Auditorium. Certainly, I cannot readily recall attending such an enterprising two-piano recital; it made for absorbing listening.

Cage’s Experiences is enchanting music, gentle, glowing-toned sound with a Ravelian delicacy that was a cleverly chosen foil to very much more extrovert works that preceded and followed it. Ron Ford’s Tema, the curtain-raiser, is a curious little piece that requires both pianists to play identical parts, much of it at high decibel levels. This is frighteningly exposed music; the slightest miscalculation is instantly apparent. Travers and Green-Armytage, though, could hardly be faulted here. Their digital synchronisation was beyond reproach, the attack and follow-through they brought to their performance making for satisfying listening. I liked, too, the duo’s response to Stephen Montague’s Paramell V, a little work that requires busy fingers, staying power and the ability to build up to massive climaxes. Here, too, the duo seemed positively to revel in the piece’s challenges to which they rose with all the vigour they demand. Dutch-born Reel van Oosten’s Danae ou la pluie d’or is based on the mythological story of Zeus changing himself into a shower of golden rain which is the form in which he visits Danae in her locked bedroom. Much of the piece has a fragile, pointillist quality that brings Debussy’s Gardens in the Rain to mind. It was given a beautifully considered reading.

This recital bore the stamp of distinction.

With the exception of Lutoslawski’s piece which was written as far back as 1941 and Cage’s piece that dates from 1948, there was nothing on the program that was written before 1981; the most recent of the compilation was Van Norden’s Uberbrettl, completed in 1998.





W.A.Symphony Orchestra
PETER McCOPPIN(conductor)
Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Edmund Percy


What a shame so many stayed away from the WASO’s first program in its 2001 Encounter series. The loss was theirs, their deplorable lack of adventurousness causing them to miss one of the city’s most enterprising orchestral presentations in some time. Repeated assertions that Perth is a significant centre for music ring hollow in the face of such lack of enthusiasm by concertgoers who would probably storm the box office if, say, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony or Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto were on the bill – but are reluctant to attend anything that might be even remotely challenging about a compilation.

Using the dance as program theme, WASO compilers put together a bill that ranged from the haunting, gentle Pavane for a Dead Princess to Aaron Jay Kernis’ very much more recent Big City.

It is still fashionable in some quarters to dismiss Gershwin’s An American in Paris as trivial and
unworthy of the concert hall, a downmarket effort that doesn’t deserve to appear on symphony orchestra programs. This perpetuates the silly slander that the Broadway genius isn’t to be taken seriously.

Canadian conductor Peter McCoppin, though, identified so strongly with Gershwin’s masterpiece (which he directed from memory) that some of the doubters may well have been converted. Certainly, by allowing the work to speak for itself in all its upbeat glory, familiar notes sounded as if being heard for the first time – a considerable feat of musicianship.

Throughout the evening, McCoppin provided a linking commentary, rather too generously, perhaps, as his leisurely and rather honeyed conversational style contained the seed of a certain tedium. With baton in hand, however, he rose impressively to the occasion.

Peter Exton has probably played the solo part of Ross Edwards’ Maninyas Violin Concerto more than anyone else with the possible exception of Dene Olding for whom the work was written. Last year, the W.A.Ballet Company mounted a choreography to Edwards’ work with WASO associate concertmaster Exton as soloist night after night in the pit of His Majesty’s Theatre for the duration of the season. This steeping in Edwards’ idiosyncratic style is now yielding handsome musical dividends. I was especially taken by the central movement in which conductor, soloist and orchestra sound as one in musical thought and intention. The lengthy, emphatic and dramatic unaccompanied violin solo that introduces the movement gives way to some of Edwards’ most introspective writing, music that captures, like a butterfly in the gentlest of hands, a quality of serene stillness. The striving of all concerned to evoke that sense of quiet rapture that lies at the heart of the central section provided the highpoint of the evening. It compensated handsomely for the occasional pitch fluctuation in the solo line in the concerto’s outer movements.

Like Samuel Barber’s celebrated Adagio, which is part of a much longer work but has assumed a life of its own, the slow movement of Edwards’ concerto has a message so meaningful and unambiguous – and sounds so complete in its own right – that it, too, might eventually come to have an existence separate from the concerto as a whole.

The much-vaunted New Era Dance by Aaron Jay Kernis – written to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra – was something of a fizzer. It opened few new windows; its use of dance rhythms and cacophonic dissonances is hardly innovative. And resorting to sirens and whistles is not really novel, either; the former was made use of by Edgar Varese as long ago as 1926. And for some of the time, the piece seemed an exploration of the noise-making capacity of the orchestra.

Samuel Barber’s Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, on the other hand, made for more fulfilling listening, music that does not so much beckon to the attention as seize it in a tight grip. A distillation of a much longer work written for Martha Graham’s dance company, it is primarily concerned with fury, grief and vengeance in sonic terms – and among many musicianly contributions here, those of the hornists, flautist Mary-Anne Blades and oboist Joel Marangella stand out particularly.

Barry Snyder Piano Recital

Barry Snyder Piano Recital




Hale School Music Auditorium

reviewed by Edmund Percy 

American pianist Barry Snyder, who has visited Perth on a number of occasions in the past, gave a recital of unusual interest in that it enabled the audience (far too small, surely, for so substantial a music event as this) not only to hear a fine musician in action (Snyder is a former laureate of the Van Cliburn International Music Competition) but also to experience the sound – live – of a new concert grand piano built by the Australian firm of Stuart and son. The instrument Snyder played – a magnificent-looking affair in Huon pine – is not intended for long term use at Hale; it is, in fact, on loan from the manufacturers until. the piano purchased by the school is ready for delivery.

There was much that gave pleasure at this recital, notwithstanding some fumbles in Haydn’s curtain-raising Fantasy in C and, after interval, some disconcertingly inaccurate playing in an account of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

It was in a bracket of mazurkas by Polish master composers Chopin and Szymanowski that Snyder came strongly to the fore, informing his readings of these exquisite miniatures with an understanding of idiom, tone colour and subtle rhythmic give and take that raised the performance to the heights. Chopin’s Ballade No 2 was no less effectively handled, with its gentle 6/8 measures cheek by jowl with huge outbursts of sound that travelled powerfully to the rear of the auditorium. George Crumb’s Dream Images (Love-Death Music), with its generous obeisances to Chopin’s Fantasy-Impromptu, was a fascinating inclusion.

Snyder has a highly serviceable finger technique, able to confidently take almost anything in its stride. Even fiendishly difficult scores hold few fears for him and he steered a commendably controlled way through Liszt’s Paraphrase of Verdi’s Rigoletto with its rather superficial, trademark treble tinklings and hefty-toned bass octaves.

Granados’ piano suite Goyescas is not for timid musicians. Much of the score is out of bounds to any but the most complete of pianists – and it requires a cool nerve, very educated fingers and staying power to bring a sense of musical logic to its often densely-packed note streams. It can all too easily sound drearily turgid. Happily, there was no suggestion of this at all. On the contrary, the performance was informed by a luminous clarity to the performance that made for most satisfying listening.