2005 – Music in Perth

An overview

reviewed by Neville Cohn

In one of the best ever years for serious music in Perth, it was the W.A.Symphony Orchestra which, towards the end of 2005, reached heights never before attained. Two programs conducted by Russian maestro Alexander Lazarev produced sensational interpretations, notably of Shostakovich’s Tenth. Soon after, we heard Charles Dutoit take the WASO through a magnificent reading of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. This was incontrovertible evidence that, provided the right person is on the podium, the WASO is capable of stunning interpretations. Earlier in the year, Vladimir Verbitsky led the orchestra through an at-times electrifying account of Prokofiev’s cantata Alexander Nevsky.

Of a raft of soloists with the WASO, it was Shlomo Mintz above all who scaled the heights in Brahms’ Violin Concerto – and Allan Meyer was near-sublime in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. Russian master pianist Nicolai Demidenko did wonders in Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini.

There was some exceptionally rewarding chamber music on offer, notably by the Australian String Quartet, wondrously eloquent in Bartok’s Fourth but their collaboration with cellist Li-Wei in Schubert’s Quintet in C was one of the year’s dullest offerings. The Macquarie Trio reached for the stars in Mendelssohn’s Trio in D minor – and the visiting Kronos Quartet did not need visual features (which were often intrusively annoying) to give evidence of magnificently honed ensemble skills.

Of piano recitals, far and away the most eccentric was by Geoffrey Tozer whose account of a Schubert sonata was bizzarely erratic. Roger Woodward’s all-Chopin recital ranged from the unfortunate to the profoundly musical. And Larry Sitsky, now in his seventies, brought youthful ardour to hitherto neglected virtuoso works of Anton Rubinstein. Scottish pianist Steven Osborne was magnificent in Mozart’s Piano Concerto K414 with the ACO but wasted his time and ours in Britten’s vulgar, cheap and noisy Young Apollo.

There was a deal of new music, with pianist Emily Green-Armytage giving a probing account of Roger Smalley’s Three Studies in Black and White. Darryl Poulsen gave the first performance of Smalley’s Lament with the composer contributing discreetly on percussion at a concert to raise funds for tsunami victims. At the Luna Cinema, Evan Kennea conducted Louis Andriessen’s fascinatingly intricate score for Peter Greenaway’s M is for Man, Music, Mozart – and James Ledger’s Line Drawing, a concerto for recorders and strings, was given a successful premiere at the Art Gallery of W.A. with Genevieve Lacey as soloist. Another remarkable new work – Georges Lentz’s Caeli Enarrant – was presented by the Australian Quartet in ensemble with percussionists positioned at four points of the Concert Hall.

Emeritus Professor David Tunley’s 75th birthday was marked by a mainly-Tunley program at the Octagon. Few Perth-based musicians have served the arts with such distinction both here and abroad. But why are so few of Tunley’s often delightful works on CD? They certainly deserve to be.

A packed Callaway Auditorium heard Stephanie Coleman and Jangoo Chapkhana in a charm-laden piano duet recital of French music.

Whether John Adams’ introverted and melancholic On the Transmigration of Souls for orchestra and chorus will survive on its own merits remains to be seen. For the present, its powerful associations with 9/11, which inspired it, guarantees it a place in orchestral programs.

Among singers, laurels to Kiwi bass Peter Whelan whose account of Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death for PIAF set new standards for vocal excellence. Charlotte Hellekant made a positive impression as Carmen in Bizet’s timeless masterpiece – and Rachelle Durkin, fresh from vocal experience in the USA, sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni as if the part had been written for her. Andrew Foote repeated his success as Papageno in Mozart’s Magic Flute in Opera in the Park.

Fiona Campbell’s glorious mezzo soprano voice was thrilling in two cantatas by Monteclair as well as Bach’s St Matthew Passion, also memorable for beautifully considered violin obbligati from Paul Wright. The impact of this performance of Bach’s Passion was all the greater as a result of Lindy Hume’s discreet and invariably tasteful theatrical touches.

Richard Tognetti’s skill as an arranger has greatly enriched the repertoire for chamber orchestra – but his transcription for solo cello and strings of Franck’s superb Sonata in A for violin and piano was a major miscalculation. Lacking that adversarial quality that is the essence of the original, it bombed despite the eloquence of cellist extraordinaire Pieter Wispelwey. Another cellist – Noeleen Wright – made an all-too-rare appearance in an all-Beethoven program. Partnered at the fortepiano by Cecilia Sun, Wright’s playing bristled with authority and intensity of emotion. Why is this exceptional musician so rarely heard in recital? Steven Isserlis dazzled in Britten’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No 3; it was an exercise in perfection.

Andrew Fisenden, a young wizard on drum kit, was frankly thrilling in ensemble with Defying Gravity.

Perth’s music life became the poorer for the passing in April of Marcia Harrison, noted music historian and matriarch of a family that has made an enormous contribution to the city’s music life. Another departure from the scene was flamenco singer Jose Maria Gonzalez.

Copyright 2005 Neville Cohn

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