Monthly Archives: October 2010

Requiem KV626; Ave Verum Corpus KV618; Sancta Maria, mater Dei KV273; Exultate, Jubilate KV165 (Mozart)





Orchestra of the Antipodes



Anthony Walker, conductor



ABC Classics CD 476 4064

TPT: 68’35”



reviewed by Neville Cohn


Oceans of ink have been spilled – and will so continue – about which hand completed which section of Mozart’s Requiem. If these endless speculations  – and musings about which illness he might have been suffering from as he wrote this, that or the other episode – bring satisfaction to those who utter them, then good luck to this endless pageant of nitpickers.


For those whose prime satisfaction comes from listening to the work, here is yet another in a very long list of recordings of the Requiem.


Piety informs just about every moment of this performance which has about it an inner quietness that is often very moving. Gratifyingly, there’s not a hint here of that over-the-top approach favoured by some.


Cantillation is at its supple best in the Kyrie which is presented with gratifying clarity at speed. And there is splendid attack and follow-through., too, in the Dies Irae. I particularly liked the  quietly uttered, deeply felt measures of the Recordare sung, beautifully, by the vocal quartet of Sara Macliver (soprano), Sally-Anne Russell (mezzo soprano), Paul McMahon (tenor) and Teddy Tahu Rhodes (bass baritone). And buoyant momentum makes for gratifying listening in Domine Jesu Christe.


It is only in the Introitus that one senses a need for a more calmly fluent unfolding of some of the most profoundly poignant music in the repertoire.


 Soprano Sara Macliver is at her virtuosic best in the much-loved Exultate, Jubilate.

Mendelssohn: The Five Symphonies

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Sebastian Lang-Lessing (conductor)



ABC Classics 476 4623 (3CDs + DVD)



TPT: 128’ 52”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Last year, when the world was awash with performances of the music of Mendelssohn to mark the bicentenary of the composer’s birth in 1809, many regular concertgoers who thought they had a good overview of his music, found themselves on an often gratifying journey of discovery. This applied particularly to his chamber music, the complete string quartets, say, which for many might well have proved revelatory.  


As far as the symphonies are concerned, most concertgoers would readily be able to identify the works dubbed Scottish and Italian. They are frequently performed and with good reason. And mini-polls I’ve conducted in the foyers of this or that concert venue around the city reveal clearly that, frequently, even the keenest of music followers have only the vaguest ideas about the existence of Mendelssohn’s other symphonic utterances apart from the ubiquitous Third and Fourth.


Bear in mind, too, that by the time Mendelssohn got round to composing what we know now as his Symphony No 1, he had been at work in the genre for much of his adolescence, producing a stream of so-called string symphonies. Many of these are astonishingly original without a hint that they’d been written by a teenager.


This 3-CD + DVD set will, I believe, bring many new adherents to the flag, not least for providing an opportunity to hear works that only very rarely appear on concert programmes these days.


Listen to Sebastian Lang-Lessing’s direction of the Tasmania Symphony Orchestra in Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 1. How splendidly this fine ensemble evokes the ebullience of the first movement. It’s a performance which brims with energy, again and again carrying the listener forward on the crest of a finely stated orchestral wave. Lang-Lessing and the TSO are no less persuasive in the second movement; its gentle, lyrical calm makes it a near-perfect foil for the energetic bustle that precedes it.


In the Minuetto, Mendelssohn’s usually sure touch is less apparent; it is overly bucolic music and the Trio excessively solemn and serious. But the finale is inspired as is its performance, not least for excellent clarinet playing and precise pizzicato which add  significantly to the engaging bustle of the music.














The Scottish Symphony is in a class of its own. How intriguing that a German could identify so profoundly with Scotland based on the briefest of visits to that part of the world. (Consider, too, the quite magically atmospheric Fingal’s Cave Overture. When will some musical Scot turn out a couple of masterpieces after some brief encounter with Germany? Don’t hold your breath!)



Lang-Lessing makes magic of the first movement. Clarinet playing in the Vivace non troppo is beyond reproach in a movement that is as Scottish as a tartan kilt and sporran.

A shrewd commentator once described the finale as “a wild dance of rude Highlanders who stamp furiously into a smug coda………”. And who would gainsay that view on the basis of this splendidly bracing account?


Almost invariably, when Mendelssohn visited England, there’d be an invitation to Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were great admirers of the famed composer – and Victoria would, shyly, sing some of the lieder by “dear Dr Mendelssohn” with the composer accompanying at the piano. And when the composer asked if he might dedicate his Scottish Symphony to her, she agreed at once. Victoria would often attend public performances of Mendelssohn’s music which invariably ensured full houses.


Inspiration informs just about every moment of this account of the Italian Symphony with Lang-Lessing and the TSO coming through with honour not only intact but enhanced. There’s not a dull moment here. The quick movements crackle with energy, the opening allegro vivace splendidly precise at top speed as is the ever-engaging Saltarello. Intriguingly, this exquisite movement, which sounds as if it might have been conceived in a single, sustained burst of highest inspiration, never quite satisfied the composer who seriously considered revising it. Happily, he didn’t; it comes as close to perfection as anything he ever wrote.


But not even the skill and commitment of the players can persuade this listener that the first movement of the Reformation Symphony is other than ponderously dull and the allegro vivace that follows amiable but unremarkable. Mendelssohn’s inspiration was no less in short supply in the pompous, lacklustre finale. But that certainly does not lessen the importance of including it – and the dreary and overlong Lobgesang – in this important recording enterprise.


It says a great deal for the skill and commitment of both conductor and orchestra that, for the duration of Lobgeasang and the Reformation symphony, these works sound far better than they in fact are.

English Eccentrics: an Operatic Entertainment (Malcolm Williamson)


Libretto: Geoffrey Dunn, based on the book by Edith Sitwell



WAAPA classical, vocal and music students



Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Few English writers have been as astute and convincing in writing about eccentricity as the remarkable Edith Sitwell whose own oddness certainly qualified her for the role.


Perhaps because she herself lived so improbable a life, her chronicles of absurd behaviour have the ring of truth.  And Australian-born Malcolm Williamson, clearly inspired by Sitwell’s catalogue of the bizarre behaviour of others, wrote a score that splendidly complements Geoffrey Dunn’s libretto based on the Sitwell book..


In a work such as this, the text is pivotal to an appreciation of the opera. Absolute clarity of pronunciation is crucial in a libretto beautifully constructed to introduce the opera-goer to an extraordinary pageant of very strange people who range from the engagingly daft to the barking mad.


The work unfolds with impressively smooth momentum.  On this point, the production scored impressively; there was about the performance a fluency, indeed buoyancy, which made experiencing this work so agreeable. And deployment of often large numbers of performers onstage at any one time – with players descending a staircase here or processing or recessing between  stage and foyer  there –  made this production a fascinating way to pass an afternoon.


But diction was often unclear – and in a work such as this where distinct articulation  of words is of pivotal importance, this was an irritating, indeed maddening, drawback. Perhaps this could have been avoided by flashing the texts onto screens at opposite sides of the stage as is often done when operas are sung in foreign languages.


Some of the singers, though, sang with impressively clear diction, not least Paul-Anthony Keightly as Philip Thicknesse. This was a delight, with Keightly producing a stream of mellow, finely pitched sound with every word as clearly stated  as one could ever have wished it to be. Matthew Reardon’s diction, too, was beyond reproach – and Elena Perroni was a delightfully over-the-top Princess Caraboo. Clint Strindberg did well as Beau Brummell. But the diction of a vocal quartet, rather like a Greek chorus with crazy hairdos, needed much greater clarity.


Bobbi-Jo’s costume designs were a delight. Eleanor Garnett’s lighting design was consistently effective.


David Wickham presided over events  from the piano,  coaxing splendid responses from his forces and negotiating the often cruelly demanding piano part with unassuming virtuosity.  A small instrumental ensemble was much on its mettle, not least Chris Dragon (clarinet) and Hannah Gladstones (bassios pianooon).





Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano)

Sonatas Nos 32 in G minor, 31 in A flat and 33 in C minor

TPT: 66’22”

Tall Poppies TPT: 66’22”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


To listen to Geoffrey Lancaster playing Haydn on the fortepiano is to be drawn ineluctably into the sound and mood world of the composer. And that was very much the case at a series of recitals that Lancaster gave in Perth recently.


 Before listening to the first of a projected series of compact disc recordings devoted to Haydn’s complete keyboard sonatas, I wondered to what extent that sense of spontaneity that made his live recitals so extraordinarily satisfying would be captured on disc. Would the freshness and vitality transfer successfully to recordings?


Any concerns I might have had on this point evaporated within moments. There is a wonderful sense of spontaneity here – and it is abundantly in evidence. Indeed, the playing on this CD is so ‘alive’ that listening to it provides that additional frisson one associates primarily with  experiencing a profound musical interpretation in the flesh, as it were.


Over the years, I have lost count of the times I’ve heard Lancaster in recital. Hopefully, this recording and those to follow will allow listeners living far from the main routes of the international concert circuit to experience the magic of Lancaster’s interpretative insights.


Just as in his recent recitals in Perth, each of the sonatas here is prefaced by a short prelude which, Lancaster explained to the audience, was the common practice in recital in Haydn’s day.


Lancaster provides his own prelude to the Sonata No 32 in G minor but the other two sonatas – Sonata No 31 and Sonata No33 – are prefaced by preludes composed by Muzio Clementi.


As a whole, this recording is pure delight. Make a point of adding it to your CD collection; it will enrich your music life.

Stalin’s Orchard (Chris Edmund and student collaborators)



Chris Edmund (director)

Enright Studio (W.A.Academy of Performing Arts)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Yet again, Chris Edmund has demonstrated impressively and unambiguously that, in theatrical terms, he is a master when it comes to the evocation of political terror. The prime focus here is two men with almost limitless political power and who, in different ways, have callously misruled over a great people.


Stalin's Orchard'   Photos: Jon Green c 2010


According to the printed program, Stalin’s Orchard is written by Edmund in collaboration with the cast but throughout its compulsively watchable duration Edmund’s near-flawless directorial touch is everywhere apparent.


Alas, the hoped for amelioration of the Russian people’s plight after decades of hideously cruel rule by Stalin and those who came after him until the rise of Gorbachev brought some hope to a cowed population, has not eventuated to any significant degree. Now, another cynical and ruthless politician presides over the nation with an ever-tightening hold on the Russian people who react to the current dispensation, as ever, with stoicism.


Stalin’s Orchard is a 90-minute-long, compulsively watchable series of vignettes, almost each one of which has the vivid stamp of truth. Here we watch as Stalin, that arch-cynic and mass murderer of his own people, demonstrates his appalling and complete power over the very existence of the people he rules with ruthless disregard for the civilised norms we take for granted. And the rot that has set in under Vladimir Putin is demonstrated in numbers of ways but especially in the white slave trade that enriches the few and humiliates and debases too many of the defenceless weak.


Young in years the cast may be, but each brief scene makes its point in a striking way –  and this would be largely due to Edmund’s faultless directorial touch. There are many very ugly truths in this production in a play that brings us face to face, as it were, with the terrible dilemmas that are routinely the fate of just about every Russian citizen except for those given official protection and who get away, quite literally, with murder if it suits their callous requirements.


Throughout, three crones – on stilts! – give a cackling commentary. Were these offered as a type of homage to the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth?


The only reservation was the decibel levels of Stalin’s voice which sounded uncharacteristically loud. Unlike those who came before him, for instance Lenin, whose oratorical style involved a great deal of shouting cum hectoring with extravagant arm waving and fist pounding, Stalin made a conscious decision to always talk softly in public or in broadcasts to his cowed people.


Despite the need for frequent, very rapid costume changes, the play came across with  unflagging onward momentum. There wasn’t a dull moment; it was, in fact, consistently fascinating. The players are young – they are all 2nd year acting students – yet they confidently handle what would be a very great theatrical challenge. Bravo!.


Stalin’s Orchard deserves an international audience.