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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.


The adagio, too, could hardly be faulted, its gently introspective nature


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.





W.A.Symphony Orchestra


Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony is seldom heard in this neck of the woods. Prior to the weekend, its most recent performance here was as far back as 1999 when Vernon Handley presided over events. It’s a very welcome return.


In less than totally assured hands, the Fifth can send sound endless and dull –  a turn-off. But when directed by a master – and Douglas Boyd is most certainly in that category – then, with an orchestra very much on its toes, the result can be electrifying. To be frank, I can’t recall a presentation of the Fifth that moved me as much as that offered to a near-capacity house on Thursday. It was the chief offering in the WASO’s Morning Symphony series.


Beautifully expressive string playing gave point and meaning to the first movement, its deeply felt ideas building up to a magnificent climax. First rate oboe playing enhanced listening pleasure.  The second movement, essentially a dance to tricky rhythms, made for totally engaging listening.


In indifferent hands, the slow movement can sound interminable – but when there’s inspiration from the podium, as was the case on Thursday, it made for blissful listening, an impression enhanced by first rate work on cor anglais in a moving, beautifully stated contribution. The finale came across as buoyant, celebratory, upbeat. It was an exultant offering. Laurels, in particular, to David Evans for horn playing of finesse; it gave the stamp of distinction to the finale, an account to remember for all the right reasons.


In an auditorium filled to near-capacity, Boyd and his forces rose splendidly to Vaughan Williams’ symphonic demands. I’d like to think that in some way we cannot comprehend, the spirit of that much-loved composer not only hovered over the proceedings but raised a hand in acknowledgement of a job splendidly handled.


I hope the performance was recorded for later broadcast across Australia. It certainly deserved to be – and I hope that Douglas Boyd will be invited back to preside over further Vaughan Williams works.


As curtain raiser, we listened to Saint Saens’ Cello Concerto No 1. It’s a trashy, shallow work – but, in the hands of a master cellist ( and Li-Wei Qin is definitely in that category),  the concerto sounded far better than it in fact is. This is no small achievement on the part of the soloist. I very much hope we’ll hear this musician as soloist with the WASO again but in a work more befitting his exceptional skill in both technical and interpretative terms.


Rachmaninov: complete piano preludes: 1941 – 1942 recordings


Prelude opus 3 no 2; 10 Preludes opus 23; 13 Preludes opus 32

Moura Lympany (piano)

DECCA 482 6266 (2CD)

TPT: 76’ 42”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


She was christened Mary Johnstone – but because the name sounded too ordinary for an on-stage career, Miss Johnstone became Moura Lympany, the surname an altered version of her mother’s maiden name. And she was – and will ever be – the only musician to have recorded the complete piano preludes of Rachmaninov on, firstly, 78rpm discs, then on LP and, finally, on CD.


All the 78rpm recordings were made at DECCA’s West Hampstead studios during WWII. It was often a stressful experience. Editing out errors was not possible on 78 rpm discs. It was all-or-nothing.


If there was a slip of the finger, smudged pedalling, a fluffed note, a loss of momentum – a lapse of any sort – the prelude would need to be recorded again from scratch. At one particularly frustrating session, not a single prelude was deemed good enough for preservation. Sometimes, all would go well, at other times, a piece would sound below par and needing to be recorded again and again (and yet again) if considered necessary. It says much, then, for Lympany’s abilities that there’s not a dull moment; every piece sounds fresh and newly minted.


During the Blitz – like fellow pianist Dame Myra Hess in Hampstead –  young Moura would take shelter beneath her grand piano in the event of a Luftwaffe bombing raid. There were so many terrible happenings during these horror years. One morning in May, 1941, for instance, Moura, on her way to Queen’s Hall to record Cesar Franck’s Variations Symphoniques, found, to her horror, that the hall had taken a direct hit, leaving a pile of rubble.


True, some of her later recordings of these works have greater depth, others are approached in slightly subtler ways – but they all bear the stamp of distinction.


Throughout, Lympany sounds utterly in control, again and again surmounting with ease the sort of technical hurdles that would cause lesser players to throw their hands up in despair. Some more about hands: Rachmaninov’s were enormous and he wrote music to take advantage of this – to the despair of  musicians with smaller hands.


It is 76 years since Lympany’s Rachmaninov recordings first came on the market. They have weathered well. Brash, lilting, aggressive, sensuous, gentle, melancholy, introspective, suave – these and a myriad other moods are summoned up by a musician at the peak of her skills.


Stephen Siek’s liner notes are first rate. They make engrossing reading.