Monthly Archives: May 2006

Plectra Ensemble

16th May 2006
Eneksis vocal ensemble

30th May 2006
Conservatorium Auditorium


reviewed by Neville Cohn


The Plectra Ensemble, a nine-strong classical guitar choir – performers who are currently students at both the Conservatorium of Music and UWA’s School of Music as well as post-graduate players – was taken through its paces by director Jonathan Paget who also teaches a number of the guitarists.

Apart from arrangements of two of Granados’ Danzas Espanolas, all the music presented was written between 1993 and 2006.

Philip Houghton has an unusual background in that his main occupation is mining for opals. He is also a largely self-taught composer. His score for Opals is dotted with instructions that call Erik Satie’s quirky, even surreal, tongue-in-cheek directions to mind.

Of the work’s three movements, it was the central piece – Water Opal, that lingers in the memory, not least for its quiet, languid, shimmering haze of sound and soft golpo thuddings. White Opal is another delight with its gentle murmurings.

Rory O’Donaghue’s Jubiloso fell most pleasingly on the ear, a most accessible offering that radiates a sunny optimism.

Duncan Gardiner’s Postcards poses puzzles for the ear. From what countries are these musical missives posted? Gardiner has not revealed this, leaving the listener to make a geographical judgement. Could the first be somewhere in Greece with its intriguing rhythmic pattern that calls the theme music of the movie Zorba the Greek to mind? Piece no 2 has a folksy, Celtic quality; the third sounds vaguely Italianate.

Of the two Granados pieces, No 5 – Andaluza – fared best with pleasing touches of rubato. But No 2 – Oriental – sounded unusually slow with trills in the melody line not always evenly spun.

There was more guitar music at a lunchtime concert in April in which Karl Hiller made magic of Brett Dean’s Sleepwalker in a Storm.

An abiding recollection of these performances is their consistent refinement of taste whether in relation to quality of tone or the shaping of a phrase.

Eneksis, a vocal ensemble coached and directed by Michael McCarthy, offered fascinating fare in the form of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Romancero Gitano for choir and guitar.

In what was claimed to be a first performance in Western Australia, the singers of Eneksis responded to the score in singing of a most tasteful sort. In fact, the quality of corporate sound could hardly be faulted; it was a joy to listen to although whether this consistently mellow, rather ecclesiastical, sound was entirely appropriate to the work could be debated. Some of the brief solo contributions were intonationally dubious, though.

McCarthy prefaced the performance of Romencero with a disconcertingly lengthy spoken introduction. Could this effusion not have been given in the form of a pre-concert talk or a printed program note which would surely have sufficed?

Romancero is a setting of texts by famed Spanish poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca. And as McCarthy indicated in his tediously drawn out commentary, cante jondo is a factor in Romencero. In the simplest of terms, cante jondo could be thought of as flamenco singing of a deep and sombre kind, the antithesis of flamenco chico which relates to the lighter, even frivolous and cheeky, side of the flamenco experience.

But in the performance, beautifully modulated as it was with splendid clarity of line, impeccable phrasing and distribution of sound, there was barely a hint of jondo quality. The presentation sounded more in the style of the Anglican church tradition.

Jonathan Paget played, as ever, with commendable musicality and intonational security – and he was the only one onstage who wore shoes. Everyone else sported black socks. Why?

Croce’s O Vos Omnes was beautifully sung as was Ride in the Chariot, a traditional gospel song.


Copyright Neville Cohn 2006

University of Western Australia Choral Society

Winthrop Hall


reviewed by Neville Cohn

Listening to that most ecstatic of motets – Exultate Jubilate – invariably calls to mind Dvorak’s comment that Mozart is sunshine. Even the words of the motet suggest radiance, such as fulget amica dies which means “the friendly, happy day shines forth”. And soprano Katja Webb very effectively captured the happy essence of the writing in an all-Mozart concert to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth. Vocal tone, other than some notes in the lower register where some power was lost, carried effectively to the furthest corner of Winthrop Hall. Occasionally, though, some notes in rapid vocal passagework were not as clearly defined as one might have hoped.

Mozart’s great motet was heard in the context of a larger work – the Coronation Mass. Here, conductor John Beaverstock demonstrated once again that in his choice of tempi, he has the happy knack of setting a pace that is both appropriate and manageable. This was especially so in the Gloria during which Beaverstock coaxed from his choral forces responses of great intensity. And the Credo, too, came across, as it should, as a mighty affirmation, an impression reinforced by an emphatic, unflagging beat. Laurels to the trombones here. The opening measures of the Sanctus were like a blaze of light, the University of W.A.Choral Society sounding at its best here. And alto Sarah Dougiamas was in fine form in the Agnus Dei.

The choir was altogether convincing in Ave Verum in which Beaverstock succeeded in maintaining a sense of onward momentum at slow speed, a feat of commendable musicianship. But the mood so carefully generated was largely ruined by latecomers thoughtlessly – and with noisy footsteps – wandering around the hall which begs the question: why are latecomers admitted mid-work?

After the interval, choral intonation proved problematical in Dixit Dominus and the Magnificat from Vesperae Solennes. One longed here for greater clarity of inner vocal lines.

2006 is the 75th anniversary year of the UWA Choral Society, a notable milestone for an ensemble that has brought a wealth of new music as well as established classics to the city, much of it during the stewardship of the late Sir Frank Callaway. Among first performances given in the city under Callaway’s direction were those of Verdi’s Requiem, Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. Another conductor under whose direction the Society flourished was John Winstanley. The Society’s next concert takes place in October and will focus on music by Western Australian composers including emeritus professor David Tunley and Dom Moreno of New Norcia. Full details are available on the choir’s website

Copyright 2006

Daniel Kossov (violin)

Timothy Young (piano)

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Beethoven’s Sonata in A, opus 47 is one of the most powerfully dramatic works in the repertoire for violin and piano. Better known as the Kreutzer Sonata, it was dedicated to violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer who is nowadays most remembered for his villainously taxing violin studies and who never got round to playing Beethoven’s masterpiece.

Its seething emotions have triggered creativity in others: Janacek’s String Quartet No 1 is subtitled The Kreutzer Sonata – and famed Russian writer Leo Tolstoy gave the name to his famous short story about murderous jealousy.


The Beethoven work was far and away the most satisfying offering in a recital by Daniel Kossov (making a welcome return visit to the city) and Timothy Young whose artistry at the keyboard makes him constantly in demand as a piano partner.

The Kreutzer Sonata doesn’t often appear on recital programs. Its unforgiving difficulties call for a cool head, an iron nerve and the stamina of an Olympic athlete. On all counts, Kossov and Young came up trumps, not least in relation to tonal balance which had not been as equitable as one would have hoped in the first half of the program in which at times, piano tone was too dominant in relation to the violin line. But in the Beethoven sonata, the duo could not be faulted on these grounds.

The imperiousness and virility that are the essence of much of the first movement came across strongly notwithstanding the occasional flaw. But then, who climbs Mount Everest without stubbing a toe on the way?

Musicianship of high order informed every measure of the slow movement. The light-hearted buoyancy of variation one was gauged to a nicety and the near-ethereal, finely spun trills that are the prevailing feature of the concluding variation could hardly have been bettered.

In the finale, the duo brought unflagging, spring-heeled fleetness to some of the most treacherous measures the master ever wrote. This was, in the best sense, a wild ride in which the smallest miscalculation could have brought the performance to grief but from which both Kossov and Young emerged with honour intact to a storm of deserved applause.

A fascinating compilation included that rarity: Hindemith’s eminently approachable Sonata in E flat from opus 11. In less than expert hands, the first movement can wither embarrassingly on the vine. Not so here, in a reading that allowed extroversion on the part of the piano and the violin’s lyrical, emotionally probing line to register strongly on the consciousness. I particularly liked the piano’s simulation of a tolling bell in the second movement and the eeriness of mood summoned up by the violin.

Dvorak’s engagingly melodious and folksy Sonatina in G was disappointing with violin tone often far too discrete and piano tone overbearing suggesting that at the opening of the recital neither musician had taken the full measure of the venue’s acoustics.

But a bracket of rarities by Aaron Copland was pure delight. Here, there was fine internal tonal balance in two arrangements for violin and piano of extracts from the score of cowboy ballet Billy the Kid: the Waltz with its quaintly wistful charms and Celebration, memorable for its whining double stopping and jazzy measures from the piano, both pieces preceded by a quite exquisitely dreamlike Nocturne.

Collectors of music trivia might be interested to know that both Copland and Billy were born in New York’s Brooklyn.

As encore, we heard Dvorak’s evergreen Humoresque.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn

Graeme Gilling/Jana Kovar/Mark Coughlan (pianos)

Conservatorium Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

It would have been surprising if any of the audience gathered to hear Bruch’s Concerto for two pianos had ever heard the work before – or even heard of its existence. Although it is available on an EMI LP, very few seem to be aware of its existence.

Graeme Gilling gave a fascinating little prefatory talk in which he explained that Bruch’s concerto had been written on commission for a piano duo – sisters Ottilie and Rose Sutro in the USA. But due to irreconcilable disputes about the concerto between composer and the duo, the work had never been performed by the commissioners.

After the death of the duo, their assets were auctioned. Among these was a box containing miscellaneous scores with the original manuscript of the concerto among them which, incidentally, revealed literally hundreds of amendments to Bruch’s original.

This lunchtime performance would almost certainly have been the first public airing of the work in Australia albeit in a version for three pianos, the third for a keyboard reduction of the orchestral score and played by Mark Coughlan.

The sheer novelty of this offering ensured the closest attention. On the basis of a first hearing, though, one is left with the impression that the concerto’s chequered history is vastly more engrossing than the piece itself.

It is a frankly tedious, vast repository of musical cliches, a work brimming with fanfares, scales and arpeggios, much of it written in a way that makes it difficult to master in physical terms and – based on a first hearing – devoid of memorable melody. In fairness, it may well sound more meaningful when heard with orchestral accompaniment – although the cosmic dullness that this version for three pianos engenders does not augur well.

Earlier, Kovar and Gilling played Percy Grainger’s Blithe Bells.

Copyright Neville Cohn 2006