Monthly Archives: July 2006

Jessica Ipkendanz (violin and voice)

Conservatorium Auditorium


reviewed by Neville Cohn


For violinists, surely one of the most formidable challenges must be the presentation of an unaccompanied recital – not least because most of the repertoire is horrendously difficult to bring off successfully. Here, the slightest lapse, be it of intonation, notational accuracy or stylistic vagary, is at once glaringly evident. So it was with particular interest that one listened to Jessica Ipkendanz in that loftiest peak of unaccompanied expression – Bach’s Partita in D minor.

This is unforgiving, unforgettable music, not least the massive Chaconne that brings the Partita to a conclusion.

There is about Ipkendanz’s platform presence, a strength of purpose – some might say it verges on defiance – striding to centre stage and with no fuss and little ceremony, launching into Annunciation, her own composition. She plays as if totally absorbed, wielding her bow like some enchanted spear as measure after measure of the most passionately intense music pours from the violin.

Then, quite unexpectedly, the playing ceases to be an unaccompanied offering as Ipkendanz, startlingly, begins to sing – a wordless vocalise, which projects arrow-like, to the furthest corners of the venue – to an accompaniment of robust violin arabesques. Here, one would very much have liked to have had an explanatory program note regarding the genesis and development of this remarkable offering.

It is a most unusual experience that sears itself into the memory.

Then the Partita: the sense of power that had informed Annunciation is everywhere apparent here. Like all the rest of the program, it is played from memory. Her tempi are invariably sensible, her rhythm rock-solid. And the grandeur that is the essence of so much of the work, especially the Chaconne, is revealed.

On the debit side of this otherwise splendidly healthy musical balance sheet is tonal monotony, an almost unvaryingly substantial sound. Could this perhaps be a miscalculation in coming to terms with the venue’s
notoriously bright acoustics? But it is only on this count that the offering is less than satisfying.

In the Sarabande, chords are wonderfully well sustained and the Gigue is a joyful, vigorous prelude to the Chaconne, a monumental challenge that is met in the most unhurried and dignified way.

Ipkendanz’s own Obsession is the final work which, stylistically, makes a lavish obeisance to Wieniawski. Whining double stopping and chassidic-like minor-key melodies make this compelling listening.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn

Musica del Mondo

Callaway Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Those who gathered at Callaway Auditorium at the weekend to hear tango ensemble Quartetto were told that, due to illness, the concert had been cancelled. Instead, we heard Musica del Mondo, a quintet whose prime focus is folk music of central Europe.

I dare say that for most at the performance, this would have been a first encounter with the del Mondo players. And, as we were told by affable team leader Alex Millier (best known to concertgoers as clarinet player in the WASO), this was the very first time the group had ever played in a venue which had both walls AND a roof!

The ensemble’s more usual haunts are outdoors markets. And this would have explained why the decibel levels produced by the players on Sunday were so high. But that extra sonic grunt and staying power that are necessary for the del Mondo musicians to make themselves heard out of doors competing against traffic noise, airplanes overheard and shouting spruikers one encounters at open air markets, turned out to be overkill at Callaway Auditorium.

Musica del Mondo brings very real skill and enthusiasm to its playing which, in both technical terms and stylistic authenticity, are immediately apparent and indisputable. But the ensemble will need to rein in its sonic exuberance as well as introducing more tonal light and shade when it comes in, quite literally, from the cold.

How fascinating (and serendipitous) it was to come across this ensemble and to listen to the sort of music – unsophisticated, earthy, atavistic and powerfully communicative – that composers such as Bartok diligently collected from remote villages to conserve for posterity before it disappeared altogether. There was also some klezmer music with Philip Everall, engagingly sporting a trilby (as did accordionist Mark Bozikovich) coming close to the heart of a genre that, like the tango, is enjoying a remarkable worldwide renaissance.

Musica del Mondo consists of five players who are not only gifted but versatile. Russell Johnson, for instance, is as articulate on the hurdy gurdy as the violin (I understand he also plays percussion and the Arabic string instrument known as the oud.). And between them, Millier and Everall play a variety of clarinets ranging from the peeping sopranino to the gruffly burping, low-register contrabass clarinet. Bozikovich certainly knows his way around the accordion as does Phil Waldron on double bass.

This concert may well have been a journey of discovery for many. I look forward to hearing Musica del Mondo again whether indoors or (weather permitting) outside at the markets.

Neville Cohn Copyright 2006