Monthly Archives: April 2004

Solo Voices at PIAF

Solo Voices at PIAF

Various venues

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

In many years of attending the Perth Festival, I cannot readily recall hearing so many voices of high quality as during PIAF 2004.


Highest profile sing this year was baritone Bryn Terfel who presented a recital devoted to vocal miniatures, most of which originated in the British Isles. As well, there were three songs by Aaron Copland.




Terfel is built like a rugby forward and he has a voice of similar size. It’s a phenomenal instrument, beautifully trained in a way that allows him complete control of the medium, leaving him free to focus on interpretative considerations.

Terfel’s account at Perth Concert Hall of Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel was an enchanting listening experience with phrase after immaculately turned phrase expressed via a stream of sound which, from first note to last, was most beautifully coloured in tonal terms. Disappointingly, the piano accompaniment by Anders Kilstrom was far too soft. Instead of providing a fine keyboard foil to the vocal line, the sound of the piano frequently all but disappeared when pitted against Terfel’s singing at its most robust. And at its gentlest, it touched the ear as lightly as a dandelion seed floating across the Concert Hall.

For those who think of Bryn Terfel exclusively in terms of his more heroic opera roles and his ability to blast a way through even the most formidably loud of orchestras, this journey through some of music’s most delicate sonic landscapes might well have proved revelatory. And the overall effect of Terfel’s singing after interval was greatly enhanced by a much more satisfying response from Kilstrom who upped the decibel levels at the keyboard in a way that made for a far more equitable distribution of sound. And, as always, Terfel’s genial stage manner broke the ice instantly.

I especially admired his treatment of four songs by Tosti, not least La Serenata with its ardently expressed vocal line to Kilstrom’s rippling accompaniment.

There were also many rewards at a performance of Dvorak’s Stabat Mater in which vocal soloists and a large choir performed in ensemble with the Prague Chamber Orchestra.

I have not heard tenor Aldo di Toro to better advantage; the intensity of his quasi-operatic treatment of the part sounded here entirely suitable and augurs well for a career as an oepra singer. And mezzo soprano Fiona Campbell was radiant both visually and vocally; her concluding solo – Let me be Guarded – before Quando Corpus brings the work to a close, was deeply affecting. One cannot too highly praise the singing, too, of the Australian Intervarsity Choral Societies Association which filled the choir stalls to overflowing. Here was a choir that sounded trained to the nth degree, certainly insofar as fine tonal light and shade are concerned.

Soprano Gweneth-Ann Jeffers was an important figure in PIAF’s Wigmore Chamber Music series, in exceptional form in Messiaen’s Songs of Love and Death (with Cedric Tiberghien an inspired piano partner) and impressive in Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder.

Copyright Neville Cohn 2004



Tankstream String Quartet

Tankstream String Quartet

University of Western Australia Music Society

Octagon Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

Although young in years, the members of the Tankstream Quartet display an impressive maturity in whatever they program, richly fulfilling the promise already evident in its earliest presentations. Listening to the ensemble after a break of some years, I was almost immediately aware of a more pronounced depth of insight in its approach, not least an expressive range that has broadened.

Certainly, this was the case insofar as the Tankstream’s reading of Haydn’s Emperor Quartet from opus 76 was concerned. Here was a reading that was invariably within the line and contour of the 18th century.

Among its many virtues is the ensemble’s unusually precise synchronisation but, happily, without it sounding in the least mechanical or impersonal. On the contrary – and significantly – its playing here was informed by a subtle rhythmic ebb and flow that gave added meaning to their performance. And that this was successfully achieved in the ultra-dry, cruelly exposed acoustics of the Octagon (which makes the slightest lapse in ensemble or intonation instantly apparent) is all the more praiseworthy.

The finesse of its playing is as much the result of inherent musicality and self-discipline as the direction it has received from established masters of the medium.

Tankstream was no less convincing in Carl Vine’s Quartet No 3 which it presented with a searing intensity and more than a little virtuosity that gripped this listener’s attention from first note to last. At its most extrovert, the quartet’s presentation was informed by a harsh, grainy-toned aggressiveness that sounded entirely appropriate.

Has any of the playing of this exceptional string quartet been preserved on compact disc? If not, it certainly deserves to be.

With hotly contested competition wins in Melbourne and Osaka, Japan to its credit, the Tankstream players are clearly going places, including Copenhagen. And one of the ensemble’s more unlikely albeit prestigious upcoming dates will be strutting their stuff at a banquet at Fredenborg Palace in the lead-up to the wedding of Tasmanian Mary Donaldson and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. According to a newspaper report, the Australian government is footing the bill for that once-in-a-lifetime gig. Perhaps by then, the ensemble will have some demo CDs to hand out as freebies to assorted royals from here and there. And if present form is any guide, the four will acquit themselves splendidly in that palatial environment.

Copyright Neville Cohn 2004

W.A.Symphony Orchestra Cond. Dene Olding Art Gallery of W.A

W.A.Symphony Orchestra
Cond. Dene Olding

Art Gallery of W.A

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Fine wine and the opportunity to view a retrospective exhibition of Howard Taylor’s idiosyncratic artworks before repairing to the atrium of the Art Gallery of listen to the W.A.Symphony Orchestra in works by Mozart, Beethoven and Sculthorpe proved an irresistible attraction for aficionados of art, music and the grape. They thronged the gallery, many with wine goblets in hand and filled every seat at this most civilised of entertainments.

Once again, we heard Alan Dodge (director of the gallery) introduce the concert at some length, followed by the appearance of guest conductor and soloist Dene Olding who also felt the need to address the audience. Wondering whether, after this second speech, we would have to listen to a third, and possibly, fourth speaker – perhaps one of the security guards expounding on his line of work or possibly a little talk on the gallery’s air conditioning system (followed, of course, by throwing the floor open for questions from the captive audience) – it was relief to see Olding raise his baton and finally get on with the main business of the evening as he took the orchestra through Sculthorpe’s Sonata for Strings No 3.

Subtitled Jabiru Dreaming (which is a reworking for string orchestra of an earlier string quartet), it was less
convincingly essayed than the Mozart symphony that followed it so that one wondered whether sufficient rehearsal time had been devoted to the Sculthorpe work.

At times, there was a tentative, hesitant quality on the part of the players with caution taking precedence over confidence of exposition. It made for rather unsettling listening – but I liked the cello solo which introduces the second movement – and the simulations of bird twitterings and didgeridoos that dot the score were convincingly
managed and brought a strong sense of place to the proceedings.

As always, Mozart’s Prague Symphony enchanted the ear. If ever there was music fit to accompany the opening of the doors of heaven, it is this. And for the most part, its gloriously developed ideas were confidently and stylishly expounded in a manner that allowed them to register to fine effect on the consciousness.

Woodwind chording was less than immaculate, though, notably in the adagio that ushers in the first movement. But the wind players redeemed themselves in the finale where its contributions to tutti utterances were impressive. Joel Marangella played the oboe beautifully. Horns were on form, too.

Another concert in this deligthful series – Haydn Snaps – takes place at the gallery on 24th July. Violinist Barbara Jane Gilby will preside over performances of Handel and Haydn. Sara Macliver will be the soprano soloist.

Purchase your tickets early. These events are invariably sell-outs.

Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn

Wild Utopia Callaway Auditorium

Wild Utopia

Callaway Auditorium

 reviewed by Scott Rheede  

Bearing in mind that at the Easter long weekend, many of the members of the Royal Schools Music Club would have been away at holiday destinations around the state, the turnout to hear the recently formed ensemble Wild Utopia was entirely respectable on an otherwise deserted University of W.A. campus.

Wild Utopia is made up of three Perth-based musicians, women who are as versatile as they are gifted. Each, in her own way, has made valuable, varied contributions to the music life of Western Australia, not least cellist Melanie Robinson who has, inter alia, worked for her alma mater, the W.A.Academy of Performing Arts, teaching music to students in the Aboriginal Theatre Course in the remoteness of the Kimberleys.

Cathie Travers (piano accordion) and Jessica Ipkendanz (violin) have such high profiles in music that they don’t need any introduction at all.

Ipkendanz’s Mosquito Dance made intriguing listening, ushered in by a single, high pitched note ending abruptly with a little trill that instantly reminded one of the characteristic sound of one of those kamikaze insects about to strike. From this rather frivolous beginning, the work flowered impressively with rich, minor-mode sonorities and melancholy melody lines that brought Hebraic cantorial singing to mind. On first encounter, though, one sensed the need for some judicious pruning of a piece that sounded a shade long for its material.

I liked Ipkendanz’s reworking of an episode from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, with its instantly recognisable, macho, striding motif of proud Veronese nobles. Here was a transcription at a way station well on the way to completion. This is an arrangement I would very much like to listen to again.

A transcription of Delibes’ famous Flower Duet brought freshness to familiar notes in an account that included Ipkendanz and Robinson treating the melody line in vocalise fashion – and very well they sang, too, to a discreet accompaniment on Travers’ accordion and hushed cello pizzicato. And in an arrangement of part of the third movement of Galliano’s Concerto for accordion and strings, Travers came impressively into her own. Spleen, another Galliano composition, had an extemporaneous, intense quality that sounded entirely right. So, too, did Travers’ arrangement of Piazzolla’s Fugata, another delight, with a groove box providing a rhythmic underpinning to music that, with its baroque contrapuntal intricacies, would surely have prompted an approving nod from the great J.S.Bach himself had his shade hovered over the proceedings at Callaway Auditorium. Earlier, we heard Traver’s probing arrangement of Piazzolla’s Preludio 9, one of the Argentinian master’s darker essays with its sombre, sighing theme.

Gypsy Groovebox, based on a remembered fragment of an Hungarian folk melody, provided extrovert, impassioned and eminently danceable music that set the pulse racing.

This presentation bore the stamp of distinction which augurs well for Wild Utopia. Its imaginative treatments of standard repertoire and its own original work make for compelling listening.

Copyright 2004 Scott Rheede

David Leisner (guitar) Eileen Joyce Studio

David Leisner (guitar)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Eileen Joyce Studio


American classical guitarist David Leisner had a career rich in promise both as recitalist and concerto soloist until an arm, disabled by illness, put paid to his concert-giving for more than a decade. But sheer grit and literally years of concentrated effort to re-learn and re-master the guitar have paid off in the most substantial way.

Leisner’s renewed command of the instrument was glowingly evident at his recital for the Classical Guitar Society of W.A.. In this sense, Leisner is yet another in a succession of remarkable musicians who have triumphed over seemingly insurmountable disability. (Another guitarist, Django Reinhardt, for instance, had his left hand badly burnt but, deformed fingers notwithstanding, evolved into a superb interpreter in the jazz idiom.)

Leisner’s program was no easy ride. No soft option for this guitarist. No. This was one of the toughest assignments imaginable for even the most impressively equipped of musicians. And Leisner came through with pennants proudly flying.

An account of Bach’s famous Chaconne in D minor was peak of the evening. Originally conceived for unaccompanied violin, it is one of western music’s most glorious achievements, an epic that has been transcribed for a number of different instruments. Larry Adler, for instance, played it on the harmonica – and Brahms made a piano arrangement of it to be played by the left hand only. Leisner has made his own transcription for the guitar – and what an awesome offering it was, with a command of the instrument so complete and seemingly effortless that the instrument seemed more an extension of Leisner’s being than an inanimate construction of wood, varnish, glue and metal strings.

Certainly, his clarity of exposition, an ability to focus on the Chaconne’s myriad intricacies without losing sight of the work’s grand design – and the range of tonal colourings drawn upon – made this one of the most uplifting guitar offerings I’ve experienced in years. It’s a lengthy work, one of Bach’s noblest offerings, and the audience paid Leisner the honour of listening to him in absolute

Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Sonata for guitar occupies a very different mood and sound world. Here, Leisner could barely be faulted, adapting to the work’s stylistic subtleties as if to the manner born, expounding its often villainously demanding musical argument with an irrefutable logic and often-blazing virtuosity. Here, as throughout, Leisner played from memory.

There was also a guitar sonata of uncertain provenance. It is believed to be by one Stephen Pratten (1799 – 1845) but music historians are doubtless yet to spill oceans of ink debating its exact origins. Whoever wrote it, it’s an appealing, charm-laden work, often sounding uncannily like the guitar equivalent of some piano sonatina by Diabelli or Dussek. It deserves a permanent place in the repertoire.

A fascinating program included arrangements of two Schubert lieder from Schwanengesang, the ubiquitous Standchen and Die Post, the haunting, bittersweet strains of the former a pleasing curtain raiser. The galloping, six-in-a-bar measures of Die Post, though, were less consistently convincing; not all the repeated notes ‘spoke’.

And of a suite of four pieces by Leisner himself, Ritual was particularly pleasing, coming across as a slowly unfolding extemporisation which gradually grew in intensity. Episode, too, made interesting listening, with its nervy quality, its syncopated rhythms and intricate work high on the fingerboard.

All in all, this was one of the most satisfying recitals so far this year, presented in near-peerless fashion by a grandee of the guitar.

Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn