Monthly Archives: February 2015

Mozart Dances

Mark Morris Dance Group

His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

As I watched Lauren Grant in ensemble with the Mark Morris Dance Company, I recalled, vividly, another, very celebrated American of approximate height.

Older readers may recall Maureen Connolly, the sensational, pint-sized tennis genius who won five grand slams single titles. Her amazing skill and stamina on the courts were such that she was dubbed Little Mo. (Big Mo, at the time, was one of the US Navy’s most formidable battle ships). But Grant, who stands a mere 4 feet 11 inches is only one of a wondrously gifted dance ensemble which, at the weekend, demonstrated their mettle to the music of Mozart.

Mozart DancesThere’s nothing in the least flashy about the company: no purpose-made, dainty dance shoes or glamorous costumes. With minimal make-up, the company are garbed in austere white, grey or black, set against a white backdrop on which are large daubs of paint. The women are uniformly fine, their techniques finely honed with impressive, fluid ensemble and grace. There is nothing effete about the male dancers, muscular, macho figures, some sporting beards and hairy chests, a number looking as if they could be useful on a rugby field.

The chief joy of the production was the consistently lissome quality of both dance and music, an aesthetic marriage made in arts heaven.

Mark Morris’ choreographies do not indulge in the more extravagant, over-the-top

extensions of the avant garde. They are much more in keeping with the essential simplicity that is the hallmark of Mozart’s ideas – and all the more welcome for that..

Three works were danced to the music of Mozart with Colin Fowler presiding over a much-reduced W.A.Symphony Orchestra in the pit. The opening and closing choreographies were presented to piano concertos – K413 and K 495 – of Mozart, the middle work danced to the Sonata for two pianos in D. The concertos featured as soloist a gratifyingly in-form Amir Farid. His playing here was stylistically impeccable and fluent, a joy to the ear. Clarity, limpid tone and fluency were first rate. The Sonata, in ensemble with Colin Fowler, though, was less than uniformly pleasing. While nearly all the notes were there, it lacked the impressive standard of ensemble so pleasingly apparent between pianist and orchestra in the concertos.

Gales of thoroughly warranted applause greeted choreographer and artistic director Mark Morris as he came on-stage to take a bow.


Don Juan, Vier letzte Lieder, Also sprach Zarathustra

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

TPT: 73’ 46 ‘‘

ABC 481 1122

reviewed by Neville Cohn


This is a sumptuous recording of Don Juan. It impresses from the very first seconds, its opening measures metaphorically sweeping this listener off his feet. Immense, focussed energy launches the piece in an electrifying, frankly thrilling start – and unfolds no less impressively.


SMP MSO - Strauss Don Juan, Four Last Songs, Also sprach ZarathustraSo often, ‘live’ concert recordings disappoint – but not this one. For much of the time, it is in the best sense satisfying, as much due to the skill of the sound engineers as the orchestral players and conductor Sir Andrew Davis.


From first note to last, one senses complete absorption in the work on the part of both conductor and orchestra – and, let us be frank, the sound engineers. The latter, in their crucial role, were clearly on their toes; it’s a recording that does very real justice to the players – and to Strauss. Very occasionally, string tone might have been a shade cleaner. But attack and follow-through were everything one could have hoped for.


Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra is given a no-less-meaningful reading with a thrilling introduction, expressed with the sort of hackle-raising intensity which draws the listener ineluctably into the composer’s unique mood and sound universe. Its hushed ending is finely considered.


Strauss’Vier letzte Lieder – Four Last Songs – that wondrously autumnal, bittersweet leave-taking of the world, is some of the most profoundly moving music ever committed to paper. Here, the MSO and Davis do wonders with the score, its nostalgia-drenched measures everything one could hope for. Horn playing is wondrously fine in ‘September’. The singing, though, for all its many merits, does not fully evoke the intrinsic melancholy of the work as effectively as the accompaniment – and the vocal line is not quite secure in ‘Fruhling’ and loses power at the nadir of the range in Beim Schlafengehen.



Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra

Hale School Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

HernShuan Hern Lee is not yet thirteen years old, yet his skill at the piano is suggestive of a pianist decades older. I listened in astonishment to his account of the Piano Concerto No 1 by Tchaikowsky. This formidably taxing work has been the graveyard of more than a few pianists’
reputations ­ but not on this occasion as the 12­ year­ old navigated a consistently impressive way through this most treacherous of Tchaikowsky’s concertos.

Impeccable memory, an unflagging beat and consistent clarity were, for the most part, entirely in keeping with the work’s requirements. Certainly, this young pianist made the auditorium’s Stuart concert grand piano sound better than anyone else I can recall playing it over the years. The demanding cadenza was a tour de force.

On the evidence of this performance, this precocious young man is clearly set on the right path in musical terms. I look forward to listening to his remarkable playing again.

Throughout, Christopher Dragon presided over the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra which responded with a will to his direction – but evident throughout the performance were worrying lapses in intonation. The importance of secure pitch is crucial and more care needs to be invested in this requirement in rehearsal and presentation. An improvement in this area can only prove

Earlier, we listened to one of Tchaikowsky’s early symphonies. As in the concerto, it was clear that each and every musician was focussed on doing the best job possible; it pulsed with sincerity – but again, insecure intonation was ever­present.

Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux cond. Jean Martinon

The complete Philips recordings 1953 ­ 1958

DECCA 480 5589 (3CDs)

TPT: 77’50”; 68’21”; 67’27”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

4805588_JeanMartinon_ThePhilipsLegacy_CoverFor aficionados of Jean Martinon, this set of three compact discs including all his LP recordings for Philips from as far back as the 1950s is musical treasure trove. With the exception of Falla’s
Nights in the Gardens of Spain, all of these performances are available for the first time on CD, an event to celebrate. Much of it is a catalogue of musical delights which are now available to a new
generation of listeners – and not before time. It’s certainly been well worth the wait.

Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is given a fascinatingly detailed reading, a performance that draws the listener ineluctably into the composer’s unique mood and sonic world. With lively rhythms and finely gauged ritardandi, this is a performance that leaps from the page. At climaxes, the playing is informed by a sizzling intensity that grips the attention.

Honegger’s Pastorale occupies a very different sound and mood world; it’s lulling, dreamily swaying quality is the antithesis of the Dukas work. Here, Martinon coaxes a consistently unified response from his forces.

The chief joy of this collection is a superb account of de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Exquisitely handled orchestral detail is a perfect foil for Eduardo del Pueyo who is magical in the solo role. Throughout, pianist, orchestra and conductor sound as one. Here, we have intensity whether quiet or sizzling – and rippling keyboard figurations that are everything that could be hoped for – and more!

In the hands of a lesser conductor, Noches can so easily sound formless, confused and interminable. Not here! From first note to last, one sensed an irrefutable musical logic on the part of both soloist and conductor. Bravissimo!

Martinon is no less impressive in de Falla’s El Amor Brujo which flares into pulsing life. Even Fire Dance, that most hackneyed of all de Falla’s pieces, sounds here quite irresistible. Alto Corinne Vozza is an ideal choice; she sings the words as if they really mean something.

Music director of the Chicago Symphony and artistic director of the Israel Philharmonic, among numbers of other highest­level postings, it’s interesting to reflect on Martinon’s remarkable career.

His original intention was to work primarily as a composer. How fortunate that he took both paths in his stride, leaving much that is memorable – and for the very best reasons.

Although the Mozart performances date from as far back as 1958 when recording techniques were not what they are now, their shortcomings in a purely sonic sense pale into insignificance when
considering the sheer spontaneity and immaculate sense of style which Martinon brings to these long­ago Phillips LP recordings.

Mozart’s delightful little Symphony No 32, which lasts all of 8 minutes, could well serve as a handy overture­like piece as curtain raiser to a program of more substantial music. It’s robust, jovial, busy music here given a first rate reading with beautifully maintained momentum.

Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony is given masterly treatment here. Its opening movement has a delightful aerial quality that sounds entirely right, spiced with abrupt fortes. Much of the work has a tongue­in­cheek quality, decorated cleverly with glittering trills and rapid arabesques to all of which Martinon and his forces respond with engaging skill.

A suite from the same composer’s suite from The Love for Three Oranges yields listening wonders as well. Scene infernale is particularly pleasing with strings ­ whether violins in high treble or slashes of double bass tone ­ very much on the ball.. The famous March brims with vigour ­ and the Prince and Princess episode is in the best musical sense meaningful.

Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun features flute phrasing of faultless finesse. Faure’s Pavane, , too, with its gentle pizzicato, is finely considered.

Roussel’s compositions are very seldom heard locally. More’s the pity because his wondrously imaginative music is an Ali Baba’s cave of sonic gems. Martinon and his forces seem positively to selish coming to grips with the scores in both the Bacchus and Ariane ballet suites – and The Spider’s Banquet is a joy.