Monthly Archives: September 2014

Fascinating Rhythms


Defying Gravity and friends

WAAPA Music Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn


At what would certainly have been one of the year’s most fascinating offerings, percussion ensemble Defying Gravity together with traditional Indian dancers from the Temple of Fine Arts – as well as a small choir and a group of double bass players – drew a packed house. I cannot recall ever before seeing so many people on stage at this venue – and it was a little miracle of logistics that so many artists in this intriguing multi-ethnic extravaganza moved and danced about the stage without collision.


Defying Gravity performs 'Ahuti'There was much that was thoroughly worthwhile on offer here – and a fair amount that could fairly be described as memorable in the best sense.


One of the most intriguing offerings was a display of so-called vocal percussion, a fascinating presentation of rapidly stated syllables by a number of players in episodes of varying, intricate rhythms that I have not encountered before.


Aaron Logan launched the evening’s program, making a startling entrance from the rear of the auditorium, invoking the ‘gods of rhythm’ in a stentorian voice while vigorously thumping a West African djembe drum.


Joni Hogan, dressed rather like a typical child’s doll, added her voice persuasively to the evening’s proceedings. And Josh Hogan made a crucially important contribution to events on stage.


What made the program that more satisfying was the clear and unabashed enthusiasm of the players with Tim White an ebullient master of ceremonies as well as contributing his percussive skills to the proceedings.


Whether rapping out a percussive storm while positioned in a circle within which was placed a battery of percussion instruments – or helping carry off and carry on any numbers of props –  everyone on stage seemed to be relishing every moment of the event – and this communicated itself to the capacity audience.


As climaxes go, the world premiere of the 2014 version of Abuti would take a lot of beating as the Indian dancers, clothed in red and white, double bass players, a small choir and, of course, Defying Gravity, mallets at the ready, combined their very different skills in a sensational, 40-minute climax of sound, movement and visual dazzlement.


It was good to see that this exceptionally engrossing multimedia offering was being filmed. I hope that through this, this remarkable entertainment reaches a very large audience; it most certainly deserves to.


It says much for the efficacy of the sound-absorbing wall panels that the often very emphatic percussive assault was able to be heard without damage to ear drums.

The Seagull (Chekhov)

Black Swan Theatre Company

Heath Ledger Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Far and away the star of this fine production is Rebecca Davis as Masha, one of Chekhov’s most fascinating characters. Davis gives a totally convincing interpretation. Here, both word and gesture are faultless in evoking Masha’s neurotic, alcoholic personality which hangs over the production like a grey blanket. There is a sense of barely contained hysteria that is altogether persuasive.


Greta Scacchi, too, is no less convincing as the celebrated, self-absorbed actress Irina Arkadina. Breathtakingly indifferent to the problems of others, extraordinarily self-centred – and miserly to boot – she is wilfully blind to the concerns of her own daughter and her sad son, rubbishing his recently written play, utterly indifferent to the humiliation that he experiences as a result. Andrew McFarlane is a consistently gentle presence as Dr Dorn.Rebecca Davis, Adam Booth. The Seagull. Image by Gary Marsh


In a smaller role, Michael Loney is altogether persuasive as Irina’s brother Sorin, a bachelor unfulfilled in life who, on stage, departs for the hereafter as quietly as he has lived his rather drab life.


In a debut role, Leila George as Nina is a pleasing, word-perfect stage presence in a play within the play but rather more emphatic voice projection as required; it was too low-key in decibel terms.


Greta Scacchi, Rebecca Davis, Andrew McFarlane. The Seagull. Image by Gary MarshThis is a finely nuanced production which, as it unfolds, draws the viewer ineluctably into Chekhov’s unique world where, invariably, all manner of tensions and misunderstandings seethe below a sometimes seemingly placid surface.


Kate Cherry’s production unfolds seamlessly, enhanced by Jon Buswell’s lighting design and Fiona Bruce’s costumes.


COVER Benjamin Grosvenor - Dances

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)

DECCA 478 5334

reviewed by Neville Cohn


If you are one of the very few piano enthusiasts not yet familiar with the name Benjamin Grosvenor, I do urge you strongly to rush out to the nearest record shop and, without delay, purchase a copy of his Dances compilation on the DECCA label. Better still, purchase two copies (one for yourself and another for a friend who will be deeply in your debt for such a magnificent present) – and then disconnect the phone, don’t pay any attention to knocking on the front door or the peas boiling over on the stove – and allow this wonderful musicmaking to take over your soul.


All this is a rather wordy was of saying that this recording is one of the most satisfying and sheerly beautiful piano performances I’ve heard in a long time. And the fact that the pianist is still in his twenties is astounding because the playing is informed by a maturity and depth of expression that is quite at variance with his youth. The courante from Bach’s Partita No 4 in D is so deliciously buoyant that I wanted to get up and dance to it.


Grosvenor’s Bach is bewitchingly beautiful; its superb grasp of style and faultless evocation of mood are profoundly satisfying. The minuet is sheer delight with exquisite rhythmic and tonal nuances, a little miracle of clarity – and the gigue is beyond criticism.


In Chopin’s Andante spianato, we listen to effortlessly rippling semiquavers above which is a finely etched melody line. The Grande Polonaise Brillante is just that – grand and brilliant. The same could be said of Chopin’s Polonaise opus 44, the playing oscillating between rugged, stentorian power and quiet murmurings that caress the ear.


Here, and throughout a gruelling musical journey, faultless taste is constantly in evidence demonstrating musical insights quite out of proportion to Grosvenor’s youth. It’s as if this pianist came into the world already finely formed as pianist extraordinaire. But there is also much about Grosvenor’s musicianship which suggests he is the beneficiary of guidance at the highest level.


There are three mazurkas by Scriabin, that in C sharp minor winningly capricious

And a waltz in A flat is bittersweet; the composer directs it be played carezzando and, indeed, this is tone that caresses the ear.


Of a bracket of eight miniature waltzes by Granados, it is the fifth, informed by a delightful Viennese lilt – and the nostalgia-drenched sixth – which are as near to perfection as one could hope.


There is yet more dazzling pianism in Schulz-Evler’s ferociously taxing “Arabesques on Johann Strauss’ By the Beautiful Blue Danube”. Again and again, while listening to this, I was reminded of the virtuosity of that handful of ultra-virtuosi who bestrode the music world in the early years of recording – Godowsky, de Pachmann (in his occasional moments of musical sanity) and the young Horowitz. Listen to Grosvenor in a Blue Danube gorgeously expressive of an echt-Wien quality, in turn shimmering with silvery toned, gossamer-light prestidigitation and dazzling with a diamond-bright quality, all courtesy of the touch of a master playing with insights far in advance of his years.


There’s a delicious musical bonbon: Morton Gould’s Boogie-Woogie Etude. Has this miniature ever had a more virtuosic interpreter? It’s a stunning little number.