Category Archives: Live Performance

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.


Silver Sands Guitar Trio


Perth Town Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn



Outside, it may have been raining with a teeth-chattering-chilly wind as well – but Perth Town Hall provided a cosy, pleasantly warm environment as we listened to a charm-laden program featuring three classical guitarists of high accomplishment, collectively known as Silver Sands Guitar Trio: Jonathan Paget, Craig Lake and Nathan Fischer.


Each of the Silver Sands players is a guitarist of high (and deserved) reputation in a solo capacity. But collectively, they have submerged their individuality to create a new multi-person identity – and it was in this latter capacity that we listened to a fascinating and intriguing compilation.


Azariah Felton’s Tintinyungu was given its world premiere performance. Its gently flowing, charm-laden measures give way to more assertive moments. I’d like to listen to it again.


The composer points out that the title means ‘‘to challenge or compete with” and the piece shows this by pitting the players against one another “through different time signatures and rhythmic groupings”. It’s fascinating fare.


I liked Francis Kleyjans’ Imagerie, Hommage a Debussy, a charming obeisance and clever allusion to Debussy’s unique style. Another delight – Gnatalli’s Toada from Brazilian Popular Suite in an arrangement by Laurindo Almeida – has an engagingly danceable  quality.


Two movements from Suite Retratos provided intriguing listening, too. First movement, entitled Ernesto Nazareth, came across as stylish with a first class blend of tone. Chiquinha Gonzaga is a busy miniature, a bustling delight.


Nigel Westlake’s Shards of Jaisalmer was exquisitely presented, a most attractive composition but needing some judicious pruning; it seemed too long for its material.


A delightfully laidback Rio Rhapsody by Gnatalli arr.Almeida was the afternoon’s curtain raiser: a splendid introduction to the afternoon.


Earlier, we listened to the W.A.Guitar Society Orchestra conducted by Jane Darcey.

Millenium Rag was a pleasant, charmingly lazy, tango-like offering and Darcey’s own River Rocks made for most appealing listening as well.

Pacifica Quartet


reviewed by Neville Cohn


In its original and accurate sense, chamber music, by definition, is intended for performance in a small space – perhaps, say, in the lounge room of a suburban home or the entrance hall of a mansion or, at most, in a small commercial space. Intimacy is its crucial requirement. As a critic who has long since lost count of performances devoted to such music, I can say that during those many years, the number of times I’ve listened to high-end chamber music in the sort of space which the composers might have had in mind for this or that work, is very, very low indeed. Commercial considerations demand continuation of the status quo. It’s virtually non-negotiable.

I dare say that box office takings at concerts featuring musicians who are paid very high fees are a necessary requirement.


Photographer Matt Landy

But there was a delightful departure from this state of affairs at a concert given in a suburban Perth residence in a conventionally-sized room. The Pacifica Quartet, US-based, was to give a performance at the Concert Hall on the night following. But to raise funds for bringing music and musical instruments to young people living miles from cities and so far away in some cases that even radio reception is uneven or non-existent, the Pacifica ensemble agreed to participate in a re-creation of an old-style chamber music environment..


Bringing the musical action so close to the listener can be an extraordinary experience, not the least of it being the strikingly different sound that reaches the ear, for instance, the unmistakable but only-very-rarely encountered grainy quality as bows bite strings. A first encounter can – and often is – a startling and even off-putting experience. I have known some listeners who find the experience so grating and unpleasant that they find it necessary to leave the room. In larger performing spaces such as purpose-built auditoriums, this is a non-issue.


Some liken close listening to bow on string to the sound of a finger nail scraping down a blackboard. Its metallic, ratcheting sound can be offputting.


So it was a fascinating experience to listen to Beethoven’s late quartet – opus 135 – under these conditions. Of all Beethoven’s chamber music produced in the twilight of his life, opus 135 would be one of the most accessible. To be frank, I’d have preferred to listen to it in a larger space. Although this was a rare opportunity to listen to a music masterpiece under conditions similar to those in Beethoven’s time, I found the nearness of the instruments eventually oppressive. But it was a rare experience and I’m so glad I had that opportunity to experience chamber music as it might have sounded in the composer’s day. I think every enthusiastic chamber music follower might benefit from an insight of this sort if only on a one-off  basis.


There was more than Beethoven on offer. We listened, too, to utterly different music in the form of  Astor Piazzolla’s Four for Tango. This, too, came across as a sonic gem to cherish.


My there be more of these events, fascinating in their own right – and beneficial in a very real and important way for young musicians in remote places. Bravissimo!

Black Swan State Theatre Company


Endgame (Samuel Beckett)

State Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn











photographer Daniel James Grant.



He’s like the spirit of malevolence and bitterness: blind, marooned in a chair from which he almost never moves as he dispenses – generously –  bile and self-hatred.


He’s not the sort of person anyone would willingly want to befriend. But Clov – played with masterly skill by Kelton Pell – has reserves of patience and compassion that are wildly out of proportion to the constant stream of unpleasantness that issues from Hamm.


Pell is star of the production; his characterisation is wonderfully, and satisfyingly, complete. There’s understated artistry in his every gesture, the slightest semi-sentence. He makes of Clov a man of angelic patience, never for a moment – not even a second – gruff, abrasive, dismissive. His every word and gesture are informed by a quietness – a calmness – that make him the very antithesis of Hamm.


Clov climbs a ladder.(He never sits – anywhere, any time.) He places a foot on the first rung – and waits a while before bringing his other foot to the same rung – and so on. In a sense this typifies Clov – quiet, unhurried, gentle with a near-angelic forbearance.


Despite given every reason to,  he NEVER raises his voice. There’s quiet understatement to his every word – the absolute antithesis of the monstrous Hamm., – but although viscerally unpleasant, one cannot help feeling pity for this dreadfully stricken being.


Hamm’s handicaps are awful;  his abrasiveness, his virtually complete lack of empathy add to the sheer unpleasantness of the man.  But – and this is the crucial question – how many others would act differently to awful Hamm in his dreadful predicament.


Who would uncomplainingly accept blindness and additional incapacity? How many would accept being weighed down by such hideous handicaps? It is so easy to be judgemental – but how many in a similarly awful  situation would act differently?


Then there are Nell (Caroline McKenzie) and Nagg (George Shevtsov), both legless, each living in a bin. Although on a much smaller scale, their parts require consistent skill – and on this score, they both deliver wholesale.


This is a five-star offering, much due to first rate direction by Andrew Ross.. I hope it’s seen by thousands. It deserves to be.

Tartuffe (Moliere)

State Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


To experience Black Swan Theatre’s frankly delightful production of Moliere’s timeless Tartuffe is as refreshing an entertainment as a cool shower on a very hot day.


With a gratifying sense of onward momentum and an entirely appropriate lightness of touch, Moliere’s play worked the magic that has made it a theatrical favourite for centuries. Pace is crucial here – and on this count director Kate Cherry could not be faulted.


This production of Tartuffe plays out against a very 21st-century background. The set is cleverly designed by Richard Roberts. It looks as if the play is set in, say, suburban Scarborough – and its neatness and polish are largely due to the efforts of the maid Dorine,  played delightfully by Emily Weir. Her role is a crucial one and she essays it as if it had been written especially for her.


The sons and father of the household, too, enter splendidly into the spirit of the play; it is theatrically spot-on.


As Tartuffe, Darren Gilshenin warrants the highest praise. He could not be faulted. This is the sort of characterisation that critics pray to experience but only very rarely encounter in reality. The timelessness of Moliere’s play is underscored by the visceral unpleasantness of Tartuffe, surely one of theatre’s most appalling, indeed disgusting, characters, a man who has made deception and hypocrisy a way of life, in fact an art form. His ability to lie and deceive is exceptional.

Cast.Tartuffe Image

Daniel James Grant

In the wonderfully capable hands and voice of Gilshenan, Tartuffe is given a face that faultlessly mirrors each nuance of this stomach-churning crook. Gilshenan hands us a Tartuffe who is the most revolting of hypocrites. The timelessness of Moliere’s play is assured by the playwright’s genius in bringing the vomitous Tartuffe to life; his visceral unpleasantness is limitless.


At one time or another, we have all encountered Tartuffe clones, those who exploit circumstances of the moment to advance their own interests which are invariably to the detriment of innocent others. And Moliere’s genius ensures that Tartuffe is as much of today as of the century in which the play was written.


Lighting, decor and garb – all this is of A1 quality – but the translation of the text into English – or rather its presentation –  is not always at the standard of these other theatrical high points. There was a lack of even flow; frequently words sounded stilted or awkward.