Monthly Archives: April 2005



Chamber music of Ludwig Thuille
Piano Quintet in E flat, opus 20
Piano Quintet in G minor
The Falk Quartet with Tomer Lev (piano)

TPT: 01:05:17
Sanctuary Classics DCA 1171

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

If Austrian composer Ludwig Thuille is one of music’s largely forgotten men, the Falk Quartet and pianist Tomer Lev ensure through this CD that his existence – and his work – will become known to listeners eager to explore some of music’s hitherto overgrown byways.

Thuille, whose most famous pupil was Ernest Bloch, died in 1907. An industrious man, he produced, inter alia, six operas and almost 100 songs – and some chamber music which thoroughly deserves a recall from obscurity.

Whilst it would be an exaggeration to suggest that Thuille’s is a strikingly original voice – much of the material on this disc seems strongly influenced by Schumann – the first movement of the Quintet opus 20 is engagingly accessible, music of unabashed romanticism.

It’s the sort of score I’d imagine Arthur Rubinstein would have loved coming to grips with. And if it would be an exaggeration to suggest this is great music – it isn’t – it certainly warrants a place in the repertoire, not least for
that sense of ardour which informs a good deal of the writing. True, the E flat quintet melodies are not particularly memorable, lacking the thematic magic of the quintets of Schumann and Brahms but Thuille uses his material skilfully.

Even if the music doesn’t scale the peaks one associates with, say, Dvorak in his Piano Quintet, Thuille’s work certainly has a place on the lower slopes of those Everests one associates with Schumann, Brahms and Dvorak.

Pianist Tomer Lev is in excellent fettle here, notably in the introduction to the slow movement in which the Flak musicians later join the pianist and sound in their element in the rather melodramatic, handwringing flourishes played as if their lives depended on it. They are no less persuasive in the robust, darkly demonic waltz that is the third movement. Piano tone is exceptionally fine in the finale – and even if the themes lack distinction, the ensemble, to its credit, presents the music with such skill and verve that for the duration of the movement, the piece sounds significantly better than it really is, and that is no mean achievement. In fact, the presentation is so persuasive that it whets the appetite for more of Thuille’s music.

Copyright 2005 Neville Cohn

David Tong (piano)

David Tong (piano)


Music by Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov

TPT: 01:10:40
Melba MR301086

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

I’ve done this sort of thing before: a curiosity-driven intention to listen to just a snatch of a newly arrived CD before retiring for the night. But what I’d thought would be a tranquil few moments listening to recorded music for piano as a prelude to bed lengthened to well over an hour. And that hour gave way to another as I listened in amazement to the wizardry of a young Macao-born musician who settled with his family in Australia when he was five years old and is now engaged in advanced studies at New York’s Juilliard School of Music.

The combined efforts of Tong’s mother, Stephen McIntyre and the formidable Mrs Yochevet Kaplinsky (who heads Juilliard’s piano department) have done a quite remarkable job of overseeing the development of a frankly sensational gift.

Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata in B flat minor is given an astounding reading that so inflamed the imagination that bedtime was put on hold indefinitely as I listened for a third time to a recording that had about it the focus, drive and intensity – and sheer digital brilliance – of a Horowitz. But this was no slavish imitation of the old wizard’s style. Rather, it is playing in the tradition that Horowitz has come to typify, playing which carries the listener along on a wild ride. This account by young Tong – he is still in his early twenties – that augurs well for a stellar concert career. In fact, with this sort of technical armory allied to a powerfully imaginative approach to whatever he plays, Tong should have little difficulty in manouvering to pole position on the international concert circuit.

But there is far more to Tong’s interpretations than virtuosic agility and the ability to build up roaring tonal climaxes. Listen to the artistry that informs every measure of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G, opus 32 no 5. How beautifully the left hand quintuplets are articulated and how exquisitely serene and lyrical the treatment of the melody line.

The more extrovert sections of Chopin’s Scherzo in C sharp minor bristle with power, all the more effective for those flanking interludes of fragile, treble traceries. And the dazzling bravura that Tong’s right hand brings to bear on Chopin’s Etude of the arpeggios in C from opus 10 is a breathtaking foil to massive-toned left-hand octaves in the bass.

Older and (for the present) better known virtuosi had better look to their laurels if Tong comes to town. The opening measures of Liszt’s Gondoleria instantly evoke images of Venice emerging from the mist. Canzone is informed by thrilling tremolo figurations – and in the Tarantella, Tong’s virtuosity borders on the god-like, sounding, for all the world like some pianistic Zeus hurling massive bolts of sound through the speakers. As well, Tong negotiates often cruelly tricky passagework with a Hermes-like, quicksilver fluency that has to be heard to be believed.

Tong’s account of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz represents some of the most electrifying virtuosity I have ever encountered. The sheer brilliance with which this young pianist surmounts the technical hazards the music poses is without peer in my experience. At its most demonic, the playing is hackle raising and all the more effective for the tenderness that informs the music’s more reflective moments. Liszt’s Wilde Jagd is hardly less astonishing as a demonstration of keyboard mastery at the highest level.

Recorded sound, apart from a touch too much echo, is splendid; it enables Tong’s physical command of the keyboard and his wide emotional range to be heard to excellent advantage. The recording was made at South Melbourne Town Hall.

Copyright 2005 Neville Cohn

White Ghost Dancing

White Ghost Dancing
Australian Composer Series

Reviewed by Neville Cohn

Ross Edwards: White Ghost Dancing; Veni Creator Spiritus; Concerto for guitar and strings (Karin Schaupp (guitar); Mountain Village in a Clearing Mist; Chorale and Ecstatic Dance (Enyato 1)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Richard Mills (conductor)

TPT: 01:10:17
ABC Classics 476 227-0

More than any other composer now working in Australia, Ross Edwards’ creative style is so strikingly original that any work of his requires little more than a few seconds’ listening to be identified as written by him.
In yet another in ABC Classics’ excellent series devoted to the music of Australian composers, this compilation is a cornucopia of some of Edwards’ most appealing works.
Much of Edwards’ music has a marked danceable quality, richly apparent in White Ghost Dancing. As Edwards has himself said, this work incorporates ideas sparked by encounters with the natural world. Scattered through the piece are discreet snatches of what might be bird song or the sounds one associates with insects, sonic images to which woodwind, brass and strings respond in impressive ways, not least oboe, bassoon, bass clarinet and trumpet which contribute to a fascinating sound picture.
This pulsing score that borders on the ecstatic has about it a danceable quality that cries out for choreographic treatment.
The opening Puro e tranquillo movement of Veni Creator, which is irresistibly suggestive of Arvo Part’s Fratres, is an engrossing study in reverential stillness.
Ritmico, the second movement, is very much cheerier, optimistic material which, like White Ghost Dancing, sounds tailor-made for the dance. Its drawn-out, solemn Amen is a perfectly gauged concluding moment.
Another delight is the Guitar Concerto, the perky, insouciant solo line in the opening First Maninya splendidly presented by soloist Karen Schaupp.
In the so-called Arafura Arioso (which equates to the slow movement), strings provide a quiet sonic backdrop against which Schaupp’s solo line stands out in clear relief. The sound engineers have captured this beautifully. And in the delightful Second Maninya finale, soloist and orchestra do wonders as they come to grips with Edwards’ trademark rhythmic requirements; there’s an excellent sense of onward momentum here. The ending is curiously abrupt.
Mountain Village in a Clearing Mist is a cornucopia of gentle musical delights. There is about the work a sense of repose, a tranquillity that is enhanced by some first rate clarinet playing. Episodes are most effectively framed by silences.

In the opening movement of Chorale and Ecstatic Dance, Edwards employs a rich harmonic language. This is deeply affecting, prayerful music, the notes of which are clothed in glorious tone. And the intricate rhythms of the Dance that immediately follows are a perfect foil to what had gone before.
This recording has the stamp of distinction.

Copyright 2005 Neville Cohn

Down Longford Way: The Music of Katherine Parker

Down Longford Way:

The Music of Katherine Parker


Jane Edwards (soprano) Ian Munro (piano)

TPT: 54:30
Tall Poppies TP174

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

Yet another in Tall Poppies’ admirable series devoted to the music of Australian composers, this compilation will
bring to many a first experience of Katherine Parker’s music.

Ian Munro is an inspired choice as interpreter of Parker’s piano music; he shapes to its demands like sparkling wine to a goblet. His interpretations are consistently communicative in the best sense.

Listen to his account of A Water Colour, playing informed by a charm and expressiveness that radiate authority. So, too, Nocturne, which falls most agreeably on the ear. And in One Summer Day – from Four Musical Sketches – Munro clothes each note in glowing tone, no less so in Red Admiral with its gently rocking figurations.

But in Down Longford Way – from which the compilation derives its title – the music, for all Munro’s persuasiveness, sounds rather cliched, sentimental music in the tradition of the honeyed Home Sweet Home. Percy Grainger thought it a work of genius. But if DLW is something of a disappointment, Brushing up the Leaves is pure delight, an engagingly, up-tempo delight in the style of a fox trot. Arc-en-Ciel calls some of Chaminade’s piano pieces to mind, a little gem in salon style.

Soprano Jane Edwards is most persuasive in I wait my Lord, music infused by a melancholy, forsaken mood. But You’ve two-score, three-score years before you yet, has a robustly striding, march-like quality. Yellow’s the Robe for Honour sounds rather lowset for a soprano.

Of all the songs, it’s the last three that provide most satisfying listening; each might have been purpose-written for Julie Andrews for some lightweight Broadway show. Sentimental in text and setting, they work very well on those terms – and Edwards rises well to the occasion. Here, and throughout, Munro is a near-perfect piano partner, loyal to both singer and composer whose accompaniments he plays with exquisite refinement and stylistic authority.

Munro’s liner notes, an engrossing read, tell us about a composer’s life dogged by ill fortune, too many disappointments and serious illness: TB and goitre problems. Parker’s total compositional output totals less than one hour’s duration.

Bouquets to the Tall Poppies team. It’s ventures such as this that ensure that Australia’s early music history is responsibly and imaginatively preserved.

© 2005 Neville Cohn

Daydreams on a Velvet Lounge The New I Voci Singers

Daydreams on a Velvet Lounge
The New I Voci Singers

Classical Jazz

TPT: 57:01

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Although the programs of John Christmass’ New I Voci Singers are most heavily weighted in favour of the classical repertoire ranging from the renaissance to the present day with a focus on sacred music and madrigals as well as a variety of folk songs, many of its performances in recent years have been leavened by a bracket of classical pops. At the suggestion of many, Christmass has placed 19 of these close-harmony, classical-pop delights on compact disc. And not before time; this collection provides near-untrammelled listening pleasure.

Recorded in the fine acoustic environment of Perth Concert Hall, this collection is a delight from first note to last.

Listen to Deep Purple; it’s close to perfection and enhanced by Tim Cunniffe’s discreet, idiomatic piano accompaniment. Smoke Gets in your Eyes is informed by a wistful melancholy that is the perfect response to the music. And Tea for Two makes for irresistibly toe-tapping listening.

There’s an exquisite arrangement of Blue Moon; the performance is as fresh as the morning. In Georgia on my Mind, however, there is some loss of intonational precision. But this is a small departure from the general excellence of the collection which is enhanced time and again by the quality of the instrumental accompaniments. In Tuxedo Junction, for instance, Cunniffe at the piano and Chris Boyder on double bass contribute to a near-flawless assessment of the music. It is beautifully sung.

Christmass’ direction secures any number of memorable moments, not least in Begin the Beguine, the notes of which are clothed in the most agreeably limpid tone.

Neville Cohn Copyright 2005