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W.A.Symphony Orchestra

 

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

On Saturday, Shostakovich’s Festive Overture was informed by a sense of immense gaiety, an ideal way to launch an orchestral program. Brass calls and woodwinds in fine fettle brought the overture to genial, pulsing life. The joie de vivre that lies at its heart was evoked to the nth degree by visiting Israeli conductor Dan Ettinger, a conductor who knew exactly what he was doing. The roar of approval that greeted the conclusion of the work was thoroughly warranted.

 

Ettinger has conducted opera at Covent Garden and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. He has also made a DVD of Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas directed by Achim Freyer as well as conducting the Ring at Tokyo’s New National Theatre.

 

Unlike its heyday when it featured in the repertoire of just about every pianist in Europe from Liszt down, Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G minor is seldom heard these days. On Saturday, the featured soloist was Argentine Ingrid Fliter, gowned in black with a floral motif. After some initial blurring and slips of the finger, the soloist retrieved the initiative, marshalling Mendelssohn’s floodtide of often ferociously taxing notes with gratifying skill and elan.

 

Violas were in particularly fine fettle in the slow movement with Fliter revealing its introspective, lyrical essence with very real understanding. And in the finale, the soloist gave us a scintillating account in a way which allowed the composer’s ideas to be heard in the most meaningful of ways. From first note to last, Ettinger took the WASO through an ideal accompaniment.

 

Warm, protracted applause was rewarded by a perhaps overlong encore – the first of Chopin’s published waltzes – played with a flair and fluency that informed the music with a delightful buoyancy.

 

There wasn’t an empty chair – with many standing – to listen to Tim White’s first rate pre-concert talk, brimming with fascinating fact. For those standing further back, though, there was a need for greater sound amplification.

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

FluteAristotle had a poor opinion of the flute. “It does not have a good moral effect. It is too exciting”. But if, through some miracle of time travel, that ancient philosopher had come along to the Concert Hall, I’d like to think he would have been so impressed by the worth of Nielsen’s Flute Concerto and so charmed by the skill of both soloist and orchestra that he’d made a point of going backstage afterwards to shake the hands of both soloist and conductor  – and ask for their autographs.

 

Nielsen’s Flute Concerto is not for faint-hearted flautists. It is ferociously difficult, treacherous at every turn – and it needs a master of the instrument to reveal its many subtleties.  I cannot recall ever before encountering a more exciting account of Nielsen’s work than Andrew Nicholson’s performance at the weekend.

 

It was a tour de force by a flautist privy to the concerto’s every secret. And judging from the torrents of applause that broke out at the concerto’s conclusion (as well as, irritatingly, after the first movement), the capacity audience was of like mind.

 

Playing his superb, golden flute as if to the manner born, Nicholson reached for the heights with phrase after flawless phrase.

 

In turn elfin and insouciant with beautifully spun, sustained trills, flawlessly essayed arabesques and an enchanting aerial buoyancy, Nicholson was consistently impressive. He also had the advantage of a first class accompaniment as Asher Fisch took the players through a dauntingly tricky score.

 

Sibelius’ emotionally dark tone poem Tapiola will never head a list of orchestral favourites; it’s very seldom heard in contrast to, say, Finlandia or Pohjola’s Daughter. But it is most certainly worth an occasional airing. Its brooding quality was most meaningfully evoked with strings and brass in impressive form.

 

Two days before the 100th anniversary of Debussy’s death, we listened to the Master’s

Nocturnes. I particularly liked the skill with which Fetes was offered, coming across as some wild, exotic dance, music that inflames the imagination. Laurels to the brass section which excelled itself. Earlier, we listened to Nuages (Clouds)  as Fisch and his forces very impressively evoked its mysterious, eerie atmosphere. It was a feast of sonic impressionism. In Sirenes, sopranos and altos of the WASO Chorus were positioned on what seemed an uncomfortably small on-stage area as we listened to its gentle, wordless singing, very slightly off-key.

 

It’s an odd fact that Ravel’s La Valse, that most danceable of works, was rejected by Diaghilev (while impresario for the famed Russian Ballet) because he felt it wasn’t danceable enough! Ravel was so deeply offended, he never spoke to Diaghilev again.

 

It was all stops out as Fisch took the WASO on a passionate journey through Ravel’s opus. It was a performance that set the pulse racing. Bravo!

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Veronika EberleThere was a near-capacity audience  to listen to Veronika Eberle making her WASO debut as soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Glamorously gowned in yellow, she played on a Stradivarius violin –  known as the  Dragonetti and dating from 1700 – on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.

 

Stylistically, Eberle’s playing was impeccable, her skill on the fingerboard beyond criticism. Bowing technique and phrase-shaping were masterly. But  listening from a seat at the rear of the front stalls, one sensed a need for rather more carrying tone in the upper reaches of the range, particularly when playing softly and needing to stand out from the accompanying orchestral sound. But this was to a degree compensated for by the delightful, silvery quality of tone that Eberle coaxed from her instrument.

 

Defying concert convention, the audience burst into sustained applause at the conclusion of the first movement. This is, of course, contrary to standard practice – but this was really a very minor departure from the norm when considering that when the Beethoven concerto had its very first ever performance in 1806, the soloist – Franz Clement – at the same point in the work entertained the audience by playing one of his own compositions performed on one string of the violin while holding the instrument upside down!  Compared to that circus-style desecration, the applause that broke out at the same point of the performance on Friday is absolutely pardoned.

 

Eberle’s golden-toned account of the lengthy cadenza was impeccable.

 

I cannot too highly praise the quality of orchestral accompaniment. It was a joy to the ear, with Asher Fisch coaxing consistently meaningful responses from a WASO in great form. It augurs well for the oncoming concert season. The introduction was informed by an altogether appropriate magisterial quality; it sounded entirely right, so much so that if, by some miracle of time travel, Beethoven could have been present at the performance, I’d like to think he’d have gone backstage afterwards to shake Fisch’s hand and perhaps ask for his autograph. Horns, trumpets and kettle drums were in great form, the musicians consistently on their mettle.

 

Incidentally, it’s seventy years since the concerto was first performed by the WASO – with, as soloist, the unforgettable, magnificent Ginette Neveu.

 

There was also a well-attended and fascinating pre-concert talk by Marilyn Phillips in the terrace-level foyer.

 

 

Sabine Meyer (clarinet)

Alliage Quintet

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Sabine Meyer It was an evening of pure delight with six players, each at the very top of their game, delivering the sort of musical magic critics long for but so rarely encounter in reality. For Perth audiences, the stand-out name would have been Sabine Meyer, grand mistress of the clarinet who, once heard, is never forgotten.

 

In many decades as a music critic, Monday was the first occasion I’d had to listen to a saxophone quartet – and was it worth the wait? Unquestionably. These four gentlemen who in interpretative, sonic and pitch terms, cannot be faulted – and who play as if drawing from a shared source of inspiration – would almost certainly have won over those who might have come to the concert in doubt about whether such an ensemble should have appeared on a Musica Viva program.

 

This concert was the last in a gruelling tour of Australian cities yet they played – and threw in a witty comment here and there – as if they’d come to town after a restful holiday. There was about almost everything on offer a delightful joie de vivre.

 

And within the democracy of so rarely encountered an ensemble, these players demonstrated the form that has justly earned the highest praise, in a performance that would surely have raised the spirits of even the most dour of concertgoers.

 

Every item on the program was an arrangement of a well-known work, much-loved pieces by, inter alia, Borodin, Bernstein, Dukas, and Stravinsky.

 

Some of the most meaningful playing of the evening focussed on extracts from the latter’s The Firebird, with players pooling their wondrous capabilities in a way that gave fresh meaning to some of the finest music to come out of the 20th century. Familiar notes in very different guise made for frankly thrilling listening. Indeed, whether sinister, tranquil or wild, Stravinsky’s ideas were heard to wonderful advantage.

 

How, I wondered, would Stravinsky have responded to his music performed in a chamber music version. I’d like to think he’d have loved it.

 

Sabine Meyer, grand mistress of the clarinet, was at her authoritative best on Monday, bringing point and meaning to everything she played with an awesomely fine ability to shape a faultless phrase. Allied to this were a faultless sense of style and evocation of mood. I cannot too highly praise such artistry.

 

Milhaud’s Scaramouche is known to millions, most frequently in a version for two pianos. But an arrangement for 4 saxophones by Sebastian Pottmeier (who is baritone saxophonist of the Alliage Quintet), came across as an essay in gleeful insouciance.

 

I wonder what Borodin would have thought of his Polovtsian Dances presented by Meyer and the Alliage Quintet. I rather think he’d have been chuffed no end.  I savoured another old favourite in new guise:

 

A lavish bouquet to Jang Eun Bae who, for much of the evening, provided piano accompaniments which were the last word in musical subtlety.

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

review by Neville Cohn

 

WA Symphony OrchestraI was surprised to read in the printed program that the WASO’s performance at the weekend of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy was the first time it has been played since 1972.

 

Perhaps one of the reasons for this near-half century absence from its programs is that the work is often thought of as little more than a trial run for Beethoven’s Symphony No 9.  But for those with ears to hear, the Fantasy is a work of magnificence which deserves to be performed far, far more frequently than is the case.

 

Asher Fisch, who is as versatile as he is gifted, presided over events from the keyboard, seated at the piano with his back to the audience. As well, the piano lid had been removed to enable conductor, orchestra, and singers to see one another. But the vice of this virtue was that with the lid removed, piano sound was not as effectively directed into the auditorium so that Asch’s immensely authoritative playing was not heard to best advantage.

 

Laurels to both the choir and the vocal soloists. Their singing was of such high standard that for much of the performance, all that this critic needed to do was to sit back and savour each delightful moment.

 

I sincerely hope that Perth concertgoers won’t have to wait a near-half century before this magnificent opus is programmed again.

 

In Beethoven’s Ninth, Fisch and his forces were no less on their musical toes. Again and again in this work of high genius, one sensed the care lavished on fine detail both instrumental and vocal. Strings were spot-on. So, too, were bassoons and oboes in rising to the work’s many challenges. Throughout, Fisch allowed the music to speak for itself, never imposing himself between audience and score, a trap into which so many lesser musicians fall.

 

I particularly liked the buoyant, jovial character of the playing and not even fleeting moments during which woodwinds were not always synchronised with the rest of the orchestra, could detract from the delightful, dance-like character of the score.

 

There was crass, unwanted applause as the vocal soloists came on-stage just before the Adagio began. But would it not have been a more practical idea for the soloists to come onstage with the conductor, taking their seats before the performance began which would have avoided this unwanted interruption to the flow of the symphony?

 

It says much for the focus and professionalism of all concerned that, notwithstanding

this interruption to the proceedings, Fisch and his forces came up trumps again and again. The opening Allegro came across magnificently, allowing one, as ever, to marvel at the sonic miracle created by a man imprisoned in a terrifying world of utter silence. The scherzo, too, reached for the heights coming across as a jovial, stamping dance.  And notwithstanding some crumpled horn notes, the adagio unfolded seamlessly.

 

In the awe-inspiring finale, trumpets did wonders – and there were wonderfully sonorous contributions from the lower strings.

 

WASO choristers: step forward and take a thoroughly deserved bow. This was one of the choir’s most meaningful moments; the polished, disciplined skill brought to the performance augurs well for upcoming concerts. As a quartet, the vocal soloists were in splendid accord, too. I particularly liked the contribution of bass soloist David Parkin who clothed each note he sang with frankly beautiful tone. Much the same could be said of Henry Choo who brought refinement and impeccable taste to everything he sang.

 

As a curtain raiser, we listened to Beethoven’s Namensfeier overture. Arguably the Master’s dullest offering, this was its first WASO outing since 1955.

 

 

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