Monthly Archives: August 2009

Parade (Alfred Uhry/Jason Robert Brown)




West Australian Academy of Performing Arts Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn




photo credit Jon Green c 2009 WAAPA



In the minds of most people, lynching, with all its connotations of hideous violence, is inextricably and exclusively associated with the murder of African Americans by white supremacists in the USA.


Parade, however, focuses on a victim who was abducted and hanged by anti-Semitic vigilantes in 1915 in the southern state of Georgia.


The story is, briefly, this: a girl – Mary Phagan – who works in a pencil factory managed by Leo Frank, is found murdered on the premises. The completely innocent Frank is charged with her murder and is found guilty and sentenced to death. Eventually, the governor of Georgia commutes the sentence to life imprisonment.


Not long afterwards, while at a prison farm, Frank is abducted and lynched. None of the lynching party, which incredibly, included lawyers, a court prosecutor and the son of a senator, was ever held accountable. Decades after this miscarriage of justice, Frank was posthumously pardoned in the 1980s.


I had wondered whether so dark and tragic a story was suitable for treatment as a music theatre piece. But any reservations I might have had about this evaporated only moments into the piece. By even the most severe of critical standards, this production of Parade was riveting stuff. Near-perfectly paced, its two-hour-long duration flew by in a production worthy of high praise.


In this multi-faceted offering, the youthful players in a large cast came up trumps again and again. The pivotal role of Leo Frank, who was 31 years old when he met his terrible death, was played as if to the manner born by Brendan Hawke, who captured the character’s stoic, rather prissy and edgy personality nuances to the nth degree. And Laura Page as Lucille was no less convincing as the wife who refuses to cut and run but stands loyally by her man. Lucille, incidentally, was scion of a prominent Jewish family which decades earlier had founded the first synagogue in Atlanta.


Whether coincidentally or by design, Hawke and Page are strikingly similar in looks to the characters they play.


Rather oddly, the role of Frank’s do-nothing lawyer Luther Rosser was played, very competently, by a woman Naomi Livingston. But what was the point, if any, being made?


Nearly all the large cast sang multiple roles.


It says much for the skill which Uhry and Brown brought to their creation of Parade that despite the trappings usually associated with the genre, the dancing and singing in no way robs the story of its tragic darkness.  Bobbing, weaving and twirling, the dancers brought Bernie Bernard’s choreography to exciting, pulsing life. Drew Weston, as reporter Britt Craig, was a particularly impressive presence.


David King presided splendidly over events, conducting a big instrumental ensemble positioned at the rear of the stage. Throughout, singing was of high standard as were Tony Gordon’s lighting and Jess Tran’s imaginative set designs. Cale Watts’ costumes did much to establish a sense of era. Crispin Taylor’s directorial touch was everywhere evident not least in consistently meaningful deployment of an unusually large cast.

Keyboard Sonatas (Domenico Cimarosa) Volume 1

557541bk Kelemen 3+3 

Victor Sangiorgio (piano)

Naxos 8.570718

TPT: 66’49”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


During the interval at a symphony concert recently, I conducted an impromptu mini-poll. What do you know about Cimarosa, I asked a number of concertgoers at random. Cimarosa? In many cases, the response was a blank look. If I’d posed the same question of opera goers, there would almost certainly have been a more positive response. Cimarosa? Isn’t he the one who wrote Il Matrimonio Segreto? Yes, it is and, an uncommonly industrious man, he turned out operas at the drop of a hat – and had them performed across Europe. His operatic output was colossal; he wrote no fewer than 60, of which nowadays it is only The Secret Marriage that gets anything like regular performance.


Understandably, this hardworking opera composer wouldn’t have had much spare time to indulge his creativity in other directions. Yet, in addition to his operatic labours, the industrious Cimarosa somehow found the time to write a great deal of music for the keyboard which, until very recently, has had very little exposure. It’s been one of music’s better kept secrets.


In the days of 78 rpm shellac gramophone discs, each of which might run for up to, say, 4 minutes, the chances of any company putting the complete Cimarosa sonatas on records would have been remote.  In the early decades of the 20th century, many, if not most, families might have possessed a very small record collection. Used again and again, dust and other detritus would settle in the groove to provide an extraneous repertoire of hisses, crackles and pops, all accepted in those days as part of the miracle of being able to turn on music at any time of the day or night. And when wind-up gramophones gave way to electrically powered turntables, it seemed as if the ultimate way of experiencing recorded music had arrived.


Along the way, LP records, then cassette tapes, were touted as the ultimate in music-reproduction finesse and unlikely ever to be surpassed. The LP, in particular, was rich in possibility in that, for the first time, one could listen, uninterrupted, to, say, half a symphony before needing to put the flipside on the turntable. It was this that paved the way to current conditions where compact discs, with their significantly longer run-times, rule the roost, with recordings that provide uninterrupted listening of an hour or even more – as on this CD which contains just under 67 minutes’ worth of keyboard music.


But while CDs are the currently the favoured means for recording works of great length, it is only for the present. Doubtless in some laboratory or perhaps a shed in a suburban backyard somewhere, the next generation of recording techniques is about to be born, to be hailed as the ultimate until it, too, is overtaken by some other electronic miracle.


Until that happens – and it will – let’s make the most of compact disc recordings which have opened enticing new vistas for those seeking the rare and the novel. One of the most charm-laden compilations now available is this first volume of Cimarosa sonatas played by Victor Sangiorgio.


There are fifty tracks making up eighteen sonatas, the first of a series devoted to the complete sonatas of Cimarosa. Although the works vary in quality, even the least of them is worth listening to – and a great deal of that attraction derives from the musicality and musicianship that Victor Sangiorgio brings to every moment of this recording.


Sangiorgio is that rarity: a musician who scrupulously avoids interposing himself between composer and listener. In each of these tracks, he allows the music to speak for itself; it is like a golden thread through this compilation.


In the opening movement of the Sonata in A, R2 Sangiorgio is rivetingly brilliant.

Contrasting tonal colours are a feature of the second movement which leads into a gracefully stated finale. In Sonata in D, R3 (most of this compilation is in the major mode) busily nimble, buoyant note streams give way to fanfare-like figurations and a finale with an impeccably stated left hand line.  And the gigue with which Sonata in D, R5 draws to a close is a model of clarity and refulgent sound.


Whilst these works are, for the most part, eminently listenable, they are not of any particular depth or profundity. So it is immensely to the credit of Victor Sangiorgio that his interpretations are so finely realised that, for the duration of most of these little works, the sonatas sound more significant than they in fact are – and that represents a very considerable feat of musicianship.


There’s much musical finesse here. Savour it: there’s more to come from Sangiorgio – and from Naxos which does invaluable work in placing largely forgotten music such as this on compact disc.

Our Land in Harmony

476 3552 Bushfire - Our Land in Harmony 

(For Victorian Bushfire Relief)

TPT: 108’ 51”

ABC 476 3552 (2-CD)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Sydney Children’s Choir, Sydney Brass, TriOz, Synergy, Peter Coleman-Wright, Choir of Trinity College, Cheryl Barker, Royal Australian Navy Band, Mike Nock, Paul Goodchild, Brian Nixon, Genevieve Lacey, Flinders Quartet, Satsuki Odamara, Sally Whitwell, Lyn Williams, Kate Golla, Michael Leighton-Jones


Knowing the circumstances which brought this recording into being, it is impossible to listen to it without being deeply moved.  On 7 and 8  February this year, terrifying walls of raging bushfire consumed not only entire settlements in Victoria but 173 human lives as well as leaving many survivors injured, some very seriously.


An initial idea on the part of those at ABC Classics FM to present a concert to raise funds for the victims of this appalling natural disaster –  a project for which many musicians and technicians immediately volunteered their services – was abandoned in favour of a giant recording project . It resulted in a 2-CD pack from each sale of which a royalty will be paid to VicRelief Foodbank for onward distribution to those in need of assistance.


It’s an overflowing cornucopia of good things, in styles ranging from the English choral tradition to jazz, from music on the koto to a tribute to Australia’s first submariners, from Peter Sculthorpe’s Anthem for Australia to a movement from one of Mozart’s Flute Quartets.


Of all the tracks, it’s two movements from Shostakovich’s Piano Trio in E minor that makes the greatest impact on the listener. Is there a more poignant utterance on grief and bereavement than this profoundly unsettling, deeply probing music? In its encapsulation of a mood of anguish – of despair beyond despair – it is the dominant offering of this collection. It is played with extraordinary insight by TriOz.


Tylman Susato, that half-forgotten Flemish composer of the Renaissance era, is represented by a little suite, its up-tempo notions presented with affectionate skill by Sydney Brass.


Of a deal of vocal music, Peter Coleman-Wright’s account of Arm, Arm, Ye Brave from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus is an object lesson in what clarity of diction is about. And there is a beautifully considered account of Harris’ Faire is the Heaven sung by the Choir of Trinity College, University of Melbourne. It’s a gem.


Musical magic of a very different sort is provided by Satsuki Odamura, a master of the Japanese koto, in Tori no Yoni which means Flying Like a Bird. This provides some of the compilation’s most expressive and intensely communicative playing.


Delightfully transparent textures contribute to altogether agreeable listening in the rondo from Mozart’s Flute Quartet No 1, here played by Genevieve Lacey on recorder with members of the Flinders Quartet.


A contribution of a very different kind is Ships with No Name composed by Matthew Close who also presides over the RAN Band with David Ritchie narrating the story of the very earliest Australian submarines, the crew of which were the very first Australians to skirmish with enemy Turks in World War I. (One such craft disappeared without trace while seeking to engage German shipping off the coast of Papua in 1914.)


Waves 09 by Timothy Constable, who directs leading percussion ensemble Synergy, abounds in murmuring arabesques (the product of immaculate mallet technique) and what sounds like the gentle pinging of crotales. But a work of such fascination surely deserves more than two cursory explanatory sentences in the liner notes. The same could be said of just about all the many tracks.


I’m sure that many who might have bought the CDs primarily because it was for a very good cause might well find musical treasure trove to delight them in their purchase. There is also information on how to contribute to VicRelief Foodbank.

Sacred Hearts and Secret Music


Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens

divine art dda 25077

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Missa Veni Sponsa Christi (Palestrina)

Lamentations for Holy Saturday (Book 3) (Palestrina)

Magnificat Sexti Toni (De Rore)

with motets by Palestrina and Rore and chants for The Feast of St Agnes


If you’ve come home after a terrible day at the office or, if you’ve spent hours in the kitchen getting the cake mix just right only to have it come from the oven a charred ruin, then don’t turn to Valium or take it out on the cat. There’s a much better option available.


It needs to be said at once, though, that the alternative offered could also be habit forming – but it’s an addiction that is entirely beneficial and can be thoroughly recommended. Toss the pills into the bin and give the cat his dinner – then put this CD on, sit back and let it work its soothing magic. An added bonus is that you don’t have to be musically literate – although that, of course, helps – to derive great listening pleasure from it.


Not the least of the many fine features of this recording are first rate liner notes which throw fascinating light on the lives and work of nuns in 16th and 17th century European convents where music, in inextricable association with prayer, was a constant companion in up to eight prayer services per 24 hours.


In the popular imagination, the notion of nuns regularly singing complex polyphony barely exists. So, this recording is timely if only for that reason.


Of course, the lion’s share of sacred vocal music was written specifically for male voices. A fair amount of this, though, was – and is – also sung by women. And if the range was too low, then it was not particularly unusual for the music to be transposed upwards to accommodate the available voices. This presentation goes some way to redressing these widespread misapprehensions.


As well, there is also a view that composers of the time wrote little vocal music specifically for women. But think of Vivaldi who spent much of his working life in an  orphanage for girls for whom the Red Priest wrote innumerable works, instrumental as well as vocal.


The contents of Sacred Hearts and Secret Music are sung with an unpretentious artistry that allows the music to make maximum impact on the listener. It deserves to be heard by the widest possible audience; it is a most notable addition to the recorded canon of sacred music


by Jon Doust

Fremantle Press, 236pp, $24.95

reviewed by Jo Donnellan


Jon Doust is well known in Western Australia as an amusing speaker of wiry physique, his low-key anecdotal style reminiscent of Garrison Keilor with a touch of Walter Mitty. He is perhaps lesser known as a writer.

His first serious novel, ‘Boy on a Wire’, telling of the adolescent years of the boy Jack Muir, reveals the author’s depth and passion. It is the story of a child whose clear Christian ethic and blazing sense of justice are confounded by his family, his peers and by his Christian boarding school. Most of the characters are composites*, yet the story is evidently based on experience.

Why was it written? As a personal catharsis, or to reveal the dark side of a particular school system, or to acknowledge those who sank beneath the weight of the system, as well as those who survived? The dedication reads ‘For all those boys who carried their scars into manhood’.

Notwithstanding some very funny passages, the predominant mood of the book is dark. Themes of cruel oppression, injustice and disillusion run through it. There are beatings and fights, and persecution both physical and spiritual.

The cover design shows the back view of a young man standing on top of a stone column above a grey rippling ocean. The man is dressed for cold weather. It is a lonely image.

Doust uses the first person, present tense throughout, giving immediacy to the narrative. His graceful English is without tricks or crudity: minimal slang is used, even in dialogue. Only the foreign accent of a particular character is indicated phonetically.

Parallel with the action run Jack’s intense interior monologues and conversations with God, providing important windows into his inner self.

* Probably the only character given his real name is Tom Brittain, a Manjimup forester, a handsome quiet man of towering physique: a man who revered the majestic timber of the south-west forests. The log chop at the local show was his event. A master of his craft, he made it look easy.


Jack enjoys chopping wood and visualises ‘Big Tom Brittain swinging from the hips in slow perfect movements and dismantling huge logs of the hardest wood on Planet Earth.’ Images of Big Tom Brittain’s rhythm and contained strength recur in Jack’s mind at moments of threat and confusion at boarding school.


The novel is set in the nineteen sixties in a farming and timber town in south-west Western Australia and in a Perth city boarding school. Jack’s practical, unimaginative father is a shopkeeper. His mother, emotionally volatile yet submissive, is a churchgoer who teaches Jack a strict system of truthfulness and respect. The parents produce two contrasting offspring. Unlike his stolid, capable elder brother Thomas, Jack is sensitive, witty, volatile, not to be trusted with machinery, and an indifferent scholar. His parents ascribe his shortcomings to a medical condition:

He’s often irritable, Doctor, and his teacher worries about him…his face is often very red. Do you think it’s the pinks disease?


What is it, Doctor, I ask, the pinks disease?


It’s all right Mrs Muir. It’s time he knew. Pinks disease, acrodynia, is mercury poisoning, son. When you were a baby you had all the symptoms: peeling skin, rashes, pink scalp, irritability and respiratory distress.


How did I get it?


We’re not sure, but a lot of baby products had mercury in them and some babies were very sensitive to it, but not all. Clearly your brother Thomas wasn’t.


And that is that. The doctor gives me some medication, confirms that some doctors believe salt will help.

Embedded in this passage is the disturbing idea that his parents may have inadvertently poisoned him.

Salt becomes a recurring element. In moments of exasperation, trying to cool his hot head, Jack licks salt from his palm. His father, making indirect reference to his inadequacies, constantly reminds him to eat plenty of salt. Later Jack becomes expert at surfing in the salty ocean.

Lists are another recurring motif. His father makes daily detailed lists of prosaic tasks he and his sons must do. At boarding school Jack makes a more potent list, of five bullies to be paid back. At the back of the book another list outlines the eventual fates of the main characters.

Birds are significant. The story opens with Thomas shooting parrots. The difference between the brothers is revealed by Thomas’ impassive efficiency, while Jack anxiously questions their right to destroy life.

Perversely Jack shoots one of his mother’s favourite small birds. Afterwards he tussles with the notions of Satan’s power within him, and of God’s avenging wrath.

A new boarder at secondary school, he is shocked and frightened by an unjustified beating from a housemaster. Bewildered, naked and in pain, he recalls the image of a small bird he once saw clinging to an overhead power line in a storm, blown about helplessly until it flew off to the shelter of a big old tree. For Jack there is no tree, no haven in this so-called godly school. He remains the ‘Boy on a Wire’.

During a tortured adolescent phase he kills and burns a crow, carelessly starting a bushfire. (In a forest region this is a serious offence). His father’s scornful rejection completes his sense of desolation.


Jack struggles to explain man’s inhumanity to man. In his childish mind the issues are clear and God’s silence is inexplicable. The mystery of God’s silence in the face of wrongdoing pervades the book.

The injustice of his parents’ favouritism galls him. Brotherly friendship is impossible due as much to his parents’ attitude as to the gulf between the sensibilities of the two boys. Events burden Jack with an uneasy mix of anger, guilt and protectiveness towards Thomas.

At Grammar School not only are the masters unpredictably violent; the bigger boys bully the smaller, newer ones. Jack’s intense feeling for integrity and fair play is outraged by the hypocrisy of the authorities and by the cowardly brutality of the bullies.

Throughout the book runs a thread of sexual persecution.

The local butcher takes liberties with married women on social occasions and to Jack’s dismay nobody challenges him. At primary school a teacher ogles the female students and Jack fumes hotly at the crassness of the man.

Jack’s mother suffers a troubled relationship with her father. Obliquely the cause of her bowed spirit and her unstable temperament is linked to some form of paternal oppression.

At boarding school each new boarder is ritually subjected to crude and painful indignities. A vulnerable boy is traumatised by this treatment. Jack divines the boy’s deep shame and sexual confusion. He makes it his solemn mission to avenge the boy’s suffering.

With all his strength Jack manages to resist an ambush by a group of older boys who would drag him behind closed doors for ugly purposes. He escapes at the cost of a thorough bruising.

A distraught young boy confides in him after an incident of interference by a stranger. Jack manages by means of quiet sympathy, respect, and a touch of humour, to comfort and restore the boy. It is a redemptive moment, described with consummate sureness.


Slowly Jack finds a way of being. His elder brother moves on. He counts down the list of bullies he has vowed to humble. He discovers girls. Unofficial rites of passage involving drink, and the law, take place. He opens up a rapport with his father. Jack’s relationship with God alters and his ties to the church loosen. Jack Muir has learned to take life with a grain of salt. He will survive to ‘carry his scars into manhood’.


Doust’s writing is powerful in its unpretentiousness. The spareness of his prose allows the content full impact. Skilful understatement in the telling adds drollery to the humorous passages. The author takes us deep into the tender, idealistic heart of the child Jack Muir. This is sincerely felt storytelling accomplished with a light but compelling touch.

JD, Perth, August 2009