Monthly Archives: April 2015

Songs My Mother Taught Me


Nemanja Radulovic (violin) and friends

DGG 479 4922

reviewed by Neville Cohn


If you’ve not yet come across the name Nemanja Radulovic, make a note of it. Because if his recent debut CD for DGG, titled Songs My Mother Taught Me, is anything to go by, this young man with an immense shock of hair and a frankly astounding musical gift, is on a fast track to fame. I listened in astonishment as he demonstrated phenomenal insight and finesse in this collection of encore-type miniatures.


image002Although many of these pieces have long been in the standard concert repertoire and recorded umpteen times, in this young fiddler’s hands, they sound transformed – newly minted. This is no small achievement.


Listen, for instance, to the Russian Dance from Tchaikowsky’s score for Swan Lake. Radulovic’s account is a miniature music miracle. Is there a more murdered piece than Monti’s famous Czardas? Yet, here too, the performance is revelatory, making familiar notes sound as if being heard for the very first time.


But although there are numerous pieces here that are very widely known, there are also a number of fascinating, seldom heard  items from Eastern Europe. Here, too, Radulovic makes magic, wielding his bow like some enchanted wand to take the listener into a sonic world that will be new and engaging for an international audience.


I would very much like to listen to Radulovic in one or other of the great fiddle concertos or, say, one of Bach’s works for unaccompanied violin to gauge the full extent of his phenomenal skill on the violin.


Kalajic’s Vatra Suze (Tears of Fire) ranges from a powerful, blazing intensity to ear-caressing gentleness. And Pasona Kolo, a traditional Serbian dance, is taken at absolutely phenomenal speed with piano, percussion and whistles combining to thrilling effect.


A seductive, sweet-toned nocturne by Khachaturian is delivered with a finesse which is beyond conventional criticism. The Romance which Shostakovich wrote for the Gadfly movie is offered at a similarly high level. As well, there’s a delightful take on Prokofiev’s March from The Love for Three Oranges.


The theme from Schindler’s List is given profoundly moving treatment, music that is a distillation of sadness and regret.


On the basis of this debut recording for DGG, Radulovic’s star is clearly on the ascendant – and it shines dazzlingly in this compilation.



Johann Peter Pixis: Concerto in C, opus 100; Concertino in E flat, opus 68


Sigismund Thalberg: Concerto in F minor, opus 5

Howard Shelley (piano and conductor)

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Hyperion CDA67915

TPT: 70’10”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Recently, I conducted a mini-poll at an orchestral concert. During the interval, I asked a number of people whether they knew who Johann Peter Pixis was. No one had a clue. I followed up by asking the same question concerning Sigismond Thalberg. Identical outcome except for one concertgoer who wondered if he was a property consultant!


For this reason alone, Howard Shelley’s tireless work in retrieving and recording long-forgotten concertos deserves every encouragement. Certainly, it resuscitates music of an era when pianistic giants roamed the earth. Unlike the dinosaur, however, these piano concertos, courtesy of Shelley’s artistry, have been brought back to pulsing life.


Pixis  ThalbergPixis’ Piano Concerto in C is a charm-laden opus. It might not be music of any great depth but it is put together with skill – and Shelley plays it as if to the manner born.


From an authoritative opening statement, Shelley is entirely in command both of keyboard and orchestral accompaniment. And if through some miracle of time-travel, the shade of the composer had hovered over the recording session, I imagine the phantom Herr Pixis would have saluted a job well done.


This is music which in lesser hands, could well descend into drabness or meretricious note-spinning – but not here, performed as it is by a pianist/conductor at the top of his game.


DSC_8960In physical terms, the playing is entirely convincing. Even in the midst of avalanches of notes, there’s no hint of strain. It unfolds with an ease and clarity that warrant the highest commendation.


In the slow movement, Shelley’s playing is beautifully expressive – and he romps through the finale, in turn delightfully delicate and robustly emphatic.


Also on disc is the first ever commercial recording of Pixis’ Concertino in E flat. How easily the first movement could come across as a succession of Czerny-like studies – but Shelley, like the pianistic conjuror he is, makes the piece sound very much better than it in fact is.


There’s some fine horn playing in the adagio sostenuto, the piano part given a deeply expressive reading with contrasting moments of rapid fingerwork.


There’s an utterly engaging, jovial and devil-may-care insouciance to the finale.



Pixis, incidentally, was, as well as a composer, a fine pianist. Chopin, in fact, thought so highly of him that he dedicated his Fantasy on Polish Airs to him.


Shelley seems positively to revel in Sigismond Thalberg’s Piano Concerto in F minor, whether in dramatic flourishes or extraordinarily nimble passagework. He does wonders, too, in the adagio which comes across like an exquisitely considered nocturne; it is the high point of the concerto. And in the concluding rondo allegro, Shelley’s astonishingly nimble fingers steer a faultless way across treacherous  terrain where even a split second of hesitation could cause a musical crisis.


Not the least of this recording’s many pleasures is the consistently meaningful accompaniment which Shelley coaxes from an in-form Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Its playing is a joy.

Jean Martinon: The Deutsche Grammophon Legacy


Bizet, Lalo, Bruch, Saint-Saens, Tailleferre, Ginastera, Martinon

various orchestras conducted by Jean Martinon

DGG 480 8926  (4CD)

TPP: 249’ 31”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Many years ago, as a very young music producer with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, it fell to me to supervise a recording to be made by ace cellist Pierre Fournier with Lamar Crowson at the piano.


4808926_JeanMartinon_TheDG_Legacy_CoverIn the third movement of the sonata, Fournier’s intonation weakened very noticeably. It was an uncomfortable moment for me. I left the control room wondering how I ought to address the great man who was having an off-day. Before I’d said a word, he looked at me with a smile and said “the intonation?”.  I stammered “Yes, Mr Fournier”. “We do it again, yes?”, asked the great man. I nodded and retreated to the control room. He gestured his readiness to begin, the red light went on and the recording began again. It was as near perfection as anyone could have hoped for.


In Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No 1, Fournier most certainly has no problem with intonation. Indeed, the persuasiveness of his artistry makes this rather shallow work sound far better than it in fact is. And in Lalo’s Cello Concerto, with Martinon coaxing a powerful response from the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux, Fournier sounds inspired.


An oddity is Lalo’s Norwegian Rhapsody for orchestra. It does not sound in the least Scandinavian.


Recently, the West Australian Opera Company’s decision to drop a scheduled production of Bizet’s Carmen because – horrors!! – it would feature some of the chorus smoking cigarettes in front of a tobacco factory, triggered an outraged response from opera aficionados. I wonder how the tobacco nazis would react to the fifth movement from Lalo’s First Rhapsody from his ballet Namnouna. It’s title is Valse de la cigarette!


Both Rhapsodies here recorded make for delightful listening.


Harpist Nicanor Zabaleta is in peak form, bringing to Saint-Saens’ rather superficial Morceau de concert such rhythmic control and tonal clarity, especially of glissandi, that, as Fournier does with the same composer’s concerto, he makes it sound far better than it is. It’s rather like the sonic equivalent of painting by numbers but offered in a way that would charm even the grumpiest bird from its twig.


More significant is that rarity, the Concertino by Germaine Tailleferre (the least known of  Les Six  – and the only woman in the group). Its busy, bustling note streams require a harpist with an iron nerve  to negotiate Tailleferre’s score as well as a conductor with the skill to hold things together. Zabaleta and Martinon are on top form here.


Zabaleta’s account of Ginastera’s Harp Concerto recorded on LP in 1960 is only now available on CD – and it draws the listener at once into the composer’s unique creative world. From abrupt, urgent and rapid repeated chords to the quietly mysterious close of the first movement, Zabaleta and Martinon are as one in music terms. The slow movement is an introverted, melancholy meditation followed by a lengthy cadenza. It leads into an upbeat, noisy finale.


Martinon’s own Violin Concerto is ushered in in intensely dramatic terms with Henryk  Szeryng an inspired choice as soloist. Whether in the hair-raisingly treacherous cadenza or the interplay between soloist and orchestra, it is gratifyingly clear that Rafael Kubelik presiding over Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks has the full measure of the work – and that Szeryng is wondrously on-form. One can only speculate what riches might have emerged from Martinon’s pen had he gone into composition full time or had a longer life. He died in his sixties..


A selection of some of Bizets’s most loved works comes across in frankly delightful fashion, Martinon seeming positively to revel in the Symphony in C, Jeux d’enfants and La Jolie fille de Perth.


There are first rate liner notes by Tully Potter.



Dinner (Moira Buffini) |Black Swan Theatre Company



Kate Cherry (director)

Heath Ledger Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


To suggest that the dinner hostess is angry is an understatement. Within moments of curtain-rise, it’s apparent that she is seething. Her bile-filled fury and contempt for her guests are ever present.


064 Kenneth Ransom, Tasma Walton, Greg McNeill, Alison van Reeken, Rebecca Davis, Steve Turner. Dinner. Image by Gary MarshInitially, we see her and a butler hired for the evening. She gives him what looks like a very substantial number of bank notes, so many that one would have to wonder whether working as a butler is a very much more lucrative way of earning a living than as a critic.


It soon becomes clear that our hostess doesn’t get along well with her husband. Indeed, as the evening wears on, she doesn’t seem to get on with anyone. She comes across as bitterness personified.


‘Friends’ arrive, among them a glamorous TV newsreader, her scientist husband Hal, a former hippy Wynne with a torn stocking – and, later, knocking at the door, a fellow who claims to have been in a truck accident. Perhaps to bolster his self-esteem, he spins the line that he’s a burglar. He isn’t, just a truck driver. He is also invited in.


Guests are seated at a long table which, like the chairs, is made of a transparent plastic material. As the play, set in the conservatory, unfolds, the table and diners revolve slowly.


It’s an evening of ugliness in both social and gastronomic terms. The soup is revolting – could it be stagnant water with ‘things’ in it? Live lobsters are brought in on platters. Diners are expected to place them in a pot of boiling water. Some can’t face that prospect and tip them into a pond in the garden. The ‘mist’ that rolls in whenever the door to the garden is opened, is so over the top, though, that one expects a zombie or other such horror manifestation to emerge from it. The dessert is ‘Frozen Waste’, the chief ingredient being just that.


At this dinner party from Hell, apart from what passes for food, there are lavish helpings of moral ugliness with bitterness aplenty, garnished with envy and plain rudeness.


The ending is completely unpredictable, at once shockingly violent and entirely mystifying.


Laurels to Alison van Reeken who is a delightful Wynne, the most human of that sad company. Kenneth Ransom as the eerily silent butler holds his tongue until almost the very end – and Stuart Halusz gives spot-on characterisation as the fellow who knocks at the door and pretends to be other than he really is. Rebecca Davis does well, too, as the flinty, glamorous TV newsreader. Lars, husband of the hostess, fits seamlessly into his role as does Greg McNeill as Hal, the scientist.

Trent Suidgeest designed the set as well as lighting which did much to enhance the moment.

black swan