Swan Lake on Ice, presented by The Imperial Ice Stars, prompted a rapturous, thoroughly deserved standing ovation on opening night at Burswood Theatre.
Not knowing what to expect – and a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist balletomaine of many decades – it was with some trepidation that I took my seat in the sold out house. I need not have worried. Within minutes of curtain rise, I was transported – and for all the best reasons.
This was not a contemporary take on Swan Lake in the manner of, say, Matthew Bourne. Nor was it entirely faithful to the original, which would have been an impossibility given the very different techniques of classical ballet and ice skating
One was left in no doubt, though, that we were in the company of great artists and great skaters, whether in the leading roles or smaller parts. This production carried no passengers..
By and large, the overall story was adhered to, the story made perhaps more plausible in this version. The original 4 acts were played in two, the roles of black and white swans divided. – and von Rothbart acquired a host of attendants.
And the music for the famous, 32 fouette episode ended up as a London Palladium-type duet for Siegfried and Benno !
Highlights were the pas de deux of Odette and Siegfried, which was a very beautiful, part aerial ballet, part skating choreography. And the Pas de Quatre of the cygnets was brilliantly transposed for skaters.The finale of the first half was also a show stopper with von Rothbart left twirling in a ring of fire.
All principal roles were well cast with some fine mime from consummate artists.
Sets were reminiscent of Tolstoy’s Russia , the costumes and lighting absolutely impeccable.
There was the odd wobble in final poses and an occasional fluffed lift but these are small quibbles , and due, no doubt, to opening night nerves.
Despite being left with some doubts as to the viability of some of the alterations made to the story and the original Tchaikowsky music, this is, overall, a winner and should provide happy hours for everyone, young and old throughout the world. Bravo!
Short story virtuoso Barbara Yates Rothwell paints with a delicate brush. Here are no vulgar splashes of colour. Instead, we’re taken into a world revealed in idiosyncratically gentle pastels. And she brings more than a hint of compassion – and a wry eye – to the characters she draws with such understated artistry.
In Crown ofThorns, we meet an order of elderly monks in a remote and crumbling abbey. Their lives revolve around an exquisite, pearl-encrusted gold crown which has pride of place in the thoughts and lives of those leading ascetic lives. Why is this ancient crown so unusual in relation to those other relics – skulls, fragments of the Cross, say – which are treasured and revered in monasteries, convents and other places of worship?
A father trying to make the most of an access visit to a much loved young son, takes the little boy to the fair and all the fun that’s associated with such excursions. The child has his heart set on a minicar that’s the prize at a shooting gallery. Why does that innocent endeavour have so eerie, frankly inexplicable – and deadly – an effect on others miles away?
Dawning is a gem about awakening awareness of the opposite sex when a still-gawky teenage experiences her first heartbreak. This is a beautifully considered piece.
On a visit to Sydney, a woman visits one of the city’s historic and prestigious homes. In one of the bedrooms, there’s a mirror – but what it reveals has nothing (or possibly a great deal) to do with the here and now. And what of her gentleman friend who she hopes will ask her to marry. There’s more than a little heartbreak here
An attentive householder hears – senses – something that ought not to be there in that very old dwelling. It’s the sounds of a child weeping. But there’s no-one in the room.
How does she handle this curious matter – and how does this kindly woman bring closure to a child in deep trouble?
In Grenadine, a woman sitting on a tranquil Australian beach in the here and now suddenly finds herself part of an horrific event: the death of a ship and many on it. It can’t possibly be happening now; these are people of a bygone age – surely?. Yet, as if in a waking dream, she’s leading bedraggled survivors up the steep cliff to safety.
Here is a writer whose skilled literary touch brings odd events to life, if the latter is the appropriate word for events concerning those long dead (or perhaps not entirely so?).
This is a most welcome addition to the discography of Russian music for the piano.
Most of the pieces here are short, ranging from durations as brief as 23 seconds to two or three minutes. There’s one larger scale offering: Esclavage et liberte which runs for just under twenty minutes..
As a schoolboy growing up many years ago in Cape Town and an enthusiastic competitor in local eisteddfodau, I often played set pieces by Ladoukhin, Maykapar, Karganov, Goedicke, Rebikov – and numbers of so-called Fairy Tales by Medtner. Nearly all of these, as I recall, were published by Chester. Their level of difficulty approximated some of the trickier pieces in Schumann’s Album for the Young. They were handy to play at piano teachers’ end-of-term concerts and at school prize giving ceremonies.
Very few of these miniatures are available on CD which is a shame as these morceaux deserve an occasional airing – and this recording of music of Rebikov is a welcome addition to the recorded repertoire, not least because, according to the liner notes, of the 43 tracks, one – and one only – has previously been recorded. The soloist in this miniature was Shura Cherkassky who would offer it as an encore from time to time: the charming, lilting little Valse from The Christmas Tree suite.
Rebikov, born in Siberia in 1866, died in warmer climes (Yalta in the Crimea) in 1920, leaving a great deal of music, much of it now being recorded by enterprising and adventurous pianists such as Anthony Goldstone.
Rebikov wrote in a bewildering variety of styles; many are on offer here.
Listen to The Devils Amuse Themselves and The Giant Dance. Both call for emphatic, foot-stamping heaviness. Goldstone presents these noisy little pieces with gusto. Bittersweet melancholy informs almost every moment of the six brief utterances that are collectively called Autumn Leaves. This is hardly great music but certainly worth an occasional airing.
A liner note suggests that the very short items that together make up A Festival anticipate the ultra-brief pieces of Webern. As well, the opening Vivo eerily calls Stravinsky’s Petrouchka to mind in its rhythmic treatment – and there’s a gritty gaiety to the following miniature which Goldstone despatches with nimble, accurate fingers.
Of the suite – Pictures for Children – it is The Music Lesson, in particular, that delights with its deliberate pedal blurring depicting a piano pupil very much under par And The Promenade of the Gnomes makes a graceful obeisance to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
Not quite 80 years ago, a young employee – Walter Legge – of His Master’s Voice records came up with an idea to boost sales: a limited edition of HMV recordings of German lieder, all by Hugo Wolf, and these would be made available only to those who became members of the Hugo Wolf Society. Top liners such as Elena Gerhardt, John McCormack and Alexander Kipnis made these recordings. Most of the piano accompaniments were by Coenraad Bos. It was a revolutionary idea at the time. Those sets are now collectors’ items.
Cyrus Meher-Homji in Monte Carlo
Years later, there was another good idea at the dawn of the LP era: advertisements arrived by post offering an LP with accompanying booklet at a knockdown price. The writer, as a schoolboy growing up in provincial Cape Town, recalls the enthusiasm with which thousands ordered their first long playing records. But the recordings were of third rate musicians and the recorded sound was terrible. So, what ought to have been a clever and effective entree to the LP world was a fizzer.
The thought and care lavished on the first initiative and the slapdash nature of the LP venture exemplify the best and worst of the recording world.
A very much more recent development is the Eloquence series of compact disc recordings that are reaching an ever-growing number of listeners.
The brainchild of Cyrus Meher-Homji, these recordings are not only invariably of high standard but the product of the most careful consideration in relation to what works share the same disc.
Meher-Homji, whose energy and enthusiasm are bywords in the industry, works tirelessly to find, and present to best advantage, the cream of recorded music. Most, but not all, the material, would originally have been recorded on LP – but there are also tracks from as far back as the 78rpm shellac era. Unsurprisingly, the care lavished on Eloquence CDs has drawn favourable comment from leading figures in music journalism.
Tully Potter, author of the newly published book on Alfred Busch and contributor to several leading classical music publications, points out that “before I ever had anything to do with Cyrus Meher-Homji, I used to bring back copies of Eloquence CDs from my trips to Australia. The label seemed to be very well directed, with elegant, attractive packaging and good engineering, and it restored useful recordings to the catalogue”. As well, Potter makes the point that it is “difficult to explain to the modern record executive constantly talking about ‘product’, that many of us really love records.
“We loved 78rpm discs, we loved LPs and we have grown to love CDs. When we speak to Cyrus, we know instinctively that he is one of those rare people in the record industry who shares our enthusiasm.
“The CD explosion has been extraordinary, providing us with an unheard-of wealth of available music. Although I constantly hear irritating technocrats foretelling the death of the CD, I think it will see most of us out; and Eloquence will continue to please those of us who prefer something tangible to a mere download.”
With the unquenchable enthusiasm and optimism that he brings to his constant search for ever more material for the Eloquence range, Meher-Homji reminds one, in a sense, of Heinrich Schliemann. That famed archaeologist tracked down the golden treasure of ancient Troy and sent the naysayers, those who said it was a pipe dream, a wild goose chase, packing. Certainly, there’s musical gold in the LP and 78rpm treasures that Meher-Homji, a latter day musical Schliemann, has rescued from virtual oblivion.
Rob Cowan, Gramophone critic and BBC Radio 3 broadcaster, says:”There’s a common gripe amongst collectors in the UK about CD manufacturers and their planning staff: why do they keep re-issuing that same old material and, even more perplexing, why do they insist on coupling what they do reissue so badly?
“Then along comes Cyrus Meher-Homji and suddenly it seems that all our prayers are being answered at once………well, not all maybe, because his influence can’t extend beyond the Universal stable!
“Here is someone who is willing to cast a careful and knowing eye across back catalogues not merely in search of ‘big names’ (though they often feature on his schedules) but in the interests of the longer-term collectors whose vinyl days are over and who yearn to revisit a favourite recording that has long been deleted.”
Cowan points out that Ernest Ansermet’s 50-year-tenure as head of the Suisse Romande Orchestra yielded an avalanche of recordings, performances “notable for their logic, clarity, musical intuition, authentic feeling and, not infrequently, a sense of excited involvement.“ Now, Meher-Homji is doing sterling work in getting this musical treasure trove to a new audience.
Eloquence CDs are competitively priced. Meher-Homji says the low cost “attracts students especially, as well as the casual buyer. People shopping for Eloquence anecdotally seldom buy just a single CD. They feel courageous enough to flick through the range and purchase a handful.
“Retail price is $10 for a single, $15 for 2-CD sets up to $30 for 5-CD sets. By way of comparison, a single “full price” CD ranges anywhere from $24 to $38”, says Meher-Homji.
Getting Eloquence CDs from an idea to a place on the retail shelf is hugely time consuming – “sourcing the material from the archives, ordering the masters, often checking LP copies for timings where they don’t exist for older masters, commissioning the liner notes (and sometimes using the original LP notes), proofing the booklet, checking the masters with very keen ears”.
Meher-Homji points out, too, that almost 90% of his work on the Eloquence range is done after hours and at home. “There’s simply not the time to do it at work. In a sense, it’s my contribution to the record industry – sometimes at the expense of a life!”
Sales statistics speak for themselves. Over the last decade, an average of over 200,000 Eloquence CDs have marched off the shelves each year.
Meher-Homji is that rarity, an ideas man who has the capacity to bring those ideas to fruition.
Consider this: For some time now, those who attend opera productions at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth have had good reason to think well of the Eloquence series as Meher-Homji has ensured that an Eloquence CD featuring highlights of whatever opera is on, is available, as well as programmes, in the theatre foyers. For growing numbers of opera lovers, the CD is as much about the opera experience as anything.
Extolling Meher-Homji’s skill in compiling CDs – in relation, say, to Ansermet’s vast recorded output, Cowan writes: “Now there have been other Ansermet series around but only Cyrus has the imagination to – for example – produce a Prokofiev double-pack that includes both the mono and stereo versions of the ‘Classical Symphony’, interpretations that are chalk and cheese. All you need to do is play the first minute or so on both recordings to realise that. Most secondary exploitation’ managers would have chosen one or the other version, leaving you to follow your own curiosity, often at great expense.
“That’s the big difference”, writes Rob Cowan. “Cyrus’ CDs are well-planned, well filled, invariably well annotated and full of little unexpected extras, such as the (hitherto) unissued tracks on his Kirsten Flagstad CDs.
“But more than anything, they are the work of a man who cares, who has the collector’s interests at heart and for that reason has earned himself many well-deserved accolades. Long may he thrive.”