Monthly Archives: July 2010

UWA Choral Society




Winthrop Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


photo Denise Teo

There would have been more than usual interest in a performance by the University of Western Australia Choral Society at the weekend as this was Jangoo Chapkhana’s  debut as director of this long- established choir.


It was an impressive presentation with Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day memorable for often-splendid choral corporate tone and tempo choices that sounded intuitively right.


 A cornucopia of musical delights included trumpeter Jenny Coleman’s vividly realised contribution in ‘The trumpet’s loud clangour’. And after intermission, Evan Cromie, too, did wonders on the trumpet.


Incidentally, collectors of musical trivia might be interested to know that Handel’s Ode was premiered at a time when England was at war with Spain – and the work’s  many martial flourishes would have stirred the blood of a goodly number of English concertgoers at the time.


Confident attack, well maintained momentum, phrasing of finesse and clarity of diction augur well for a choir that sounds refreshingly alert and revitalised as in ‘From harmony’.


An orchestra led by Daniel Kossov gave us finely managed dotted rhythms and clean lines in the overture and a gracefully stated  Menuetto. Strings, overall, were in excellent fettle.


I liked the tenderness that informed much of ‘The soft complaining flute’ but singing was not always quite on the note here.


There was much that gave listening pleasure, too, in Bach’s Magnificat in D with the choir once again strikingly in form – and evoking what one commentator has so perceptively described as the work’s “unearthly jubilance”. Stewart Smith was beyond reproach at the organ.  


In ‘Suscepit Israel’, vocal soloists Stephanie Gooch, Sarah-Janet Dougiamas and Meredith Wilkie sang to fine effect with Robert Hofmann coming into his own in ‘Quia fecit’. David Woodward brought a supple and musicianly voice to his arias. Earlier, we heard pleasingly idiomatic contributions from recorder players Jordi Corall and Tamara Gries in ‘Eurientes implevit bonis’.


In ‘Fecit potentiam’, singing oscillated between spot-on brilliance and incoherence.


There was also a deeply felt presentation of Bach’s O Jesu Christ, Mein Lebens Licht.


In passing: for the benefit of those concertgoers  – and critics – who make a point of arriving in good time for events such as this, could something be done about latecomers who thoughtlessly walk into the hall mid-aria or chorus, their footsteps on the uncarpeted wooden floor providing a thoroughly unwanted clattering obbligato to Bach and Handel’s best efforts? What is the point of having ushers on duty if they do next to nothing about this maddeningly intrusive practice? 



Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano)



Eileen Joyce Studio, UWA

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Some time ago, during a TV interview, famed mezzo Cecilia Bartoli was asked whether she thought she had been touched by the finger of God. Modestly, she said she doubted it  –  but, tongue in cheek – she conceded that the Lord might possibly have waved ‘hullo’ from a distance.


After listening to Geoffrey Lancaster’s artistry in this series of Haydn  recitals, I’d like to think that God Almighty would not only have waved to him but invited him in for afternoon tea.


Perhaps once in a generation, sometimes even less frequently, there’s an opportunity to hear Haydn’s complete keyboard sonatas. Perth concertgoers were offered this rare opportunity in July.


Geoffrey Lancaster is one of the very few fortepianists anywhere in the world to have taken on this immense challenge. And in these recitals, it was at once apparent that he has in abundance those crucial attributes essential to embark on so vast a musical enterprise: fearless, superbly educated fingers, an intellect of highest order, rare expressive insights – and the staying power of a primed athlete.


Not the least of the many delights of the sonatas (more than fifty) was Lancaster’s linking commentary deriving from a lifetime’s consideration of these wonderful but often neglected  keyboard gems. Lancaster’s knowledge of the circumstances surrounding each of these gems is encyclopaedic.


As well, in the style of Haydn’s day, the performance of each sonata was prefaced by a brief prelude by the performer: an extemporaneous flourish here, a little series of rapid arabesques there, some scales up and down the keyboard – and then the magic of Haydn interpreted by a keyboard master at the height of his powers.


Rapid passagework that called strings of perfectly matched pearls to mind – and the extraordinary richness of Lancaster’s ornamentation of the music – were two only of the many factors he employed to expound Haydn’s idiosyncratic musical argument in the most persuasive and satisfying ways.  


I noticed a few members of the audience closely following Lancaster’s performances in the printed score and scribbling comments in the margins, doubtless interpretative insights of a valuable sort to pass on to pupils.


It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this series. The chances of encountering these works here again soon as a cycle, are very, very small. In over fifty years of busy concertgoing, this has been the first opportunity I’ve had to listen to many of these extraordinary works in a single series.


Currently, Lancaster is recording the Haydn cycle of sonatas for the Tall Poppies label. 




King Lear





Bell Shakespeare Company



His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn




As is well known, the perfidy of King Lear’s ghastly daughters Goneril and Regan tips him over the edge into insanity after he abdicates and gives each one half of his kingdom – a very foolish move as becomes apparent later. And Cordelia, who loves Lear in the most genuine sense, is disinherited and meets a terrible end as well.


But there’s probably a case for supposing that Lear had begun to lose his grip on reality before disinheriting Cordelia and giving his kingdom to her appalling sisters. Consider this: is it a rational move to base so pivotal a decision as disposition of a kingdom entirely on the basis of an answer to this question: “Which of you shall we say doth love us most? “


Has Lear been deaf and blind up until that point? Has he over the years not formed a clear view how his daughters relate to him? Not to have done so suggests that there is something very wrong with the old man. And is his reaction to sweet Cordelia’s answer rational? No, it is the act of someone who is losing contact with reality. Dementia, perhaps?  


Nothing so clearly indicates the timeless and universal nature of the predicament Lear finds himself in than Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer prizewinning novel A Thousand Acres which is a modern take on the Lear story, set not in early Britain but a 20th-century farm in rural Iowa,  US A.. Smiley adds a further dimension – the protracted sexual abuse by the father which makes this an even more disturbing tale than the Lear original.


In this 20th anniversary production of  Bell Shakespeare Company, John Bell demonstrated the form that has made him a legend in Australian dramatic circles.

His bearing and diction brought the stamp of authority to every syllable uttered, to every gesture in the eponymous role. It was a model of its kind, the disintegration of Lear’s mind evoked to painful effect.


Lavish laurels to Jane Montgomery Griffiths as Goneril and Rachel Gordon as Regan each of whom comes across strongly as the essence of daughterly ingratitude.


Violence of both word and hand is here in abundance, not least in the hideously cruel blinding of Gloucester (played by Bruce Myles), an instant of horror in which a flash of searing white light and bloodcurdling scream as the horrible deed is done make for stunning theatre.


There are no weak links in the cast; each contributes something of worth to the overall production. I particularly admired the artistry of Peter Carroll as Fool. Step forward, sir, and take a well deserved bow for a first rate contribution. Peter Kowitz, too, as the Earl of Kent, did well.


As an ensemble, the company is impressive in conveying the cumulative power of the play in a way that calls to mind the words of former USA President Woodrow Wilson who, in a quite different context, spoke of  “experiencing history to flashes of lightning”.


As well, I cannot too highly praise the musicianship of Bree van Reyk, percussionist extraordinaire. Discreetly positioned to one side of the stage before a bank of percussion instruments, she employed artistry at a consistently high level with a range of sound effects that did much to enhance the impact of on-stage word and deed.


Nick Schliepers’s discreet lighting design strikingly complements Marion Potts’ direction.