Diana Doherty (oboe)

Diana Doherty (oboe)

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall


reviewed by Neville Cohn 

It seemed an odd choice for a series called The Great Classics. Written three years ago, Graham Koehne’s Inflight Entertainment – a concerto for oboe and orchestra – hardly qualifies for status as a classic in the sens of remaining relevant beyond its own era; it is barely out of its wrappings. And whether Inflight Entertainment is worthy of the adjective ‘great’, in the sense of being of more importance than others of its kind, is debatable.
In the sense of providing a pleasant diversion, however, Koehne’s concerto lives up to its name in that it is consistently entertaining.

Also beyond debate is Diana Doherty’s astonishing command of the oboe. There are not many musicians here – or anywhere else for that matter – who could rise so magnificently to the occasion as Doherty. She provided phenomenal and irrefutable evidence that she has tamed this most treacherous of wind instruments that does her bidding in a way that places her well to the forefront of masters of the oboe.

A ferociously taxing cadenza, during which Doherty performed the near-impossible by playing chords as opposed to single notes on the oboe, left one in little doubt that her physical command of the instrument places her in a category of excellence shared by Holliger and Indermuhle. Praise doesn’t get much higher than this.

At the conclusion of this marathon concerto (which would have left most other oboists out of puff long before the end of the work), Doherty, in response to rapturous applause, played as encore Blues for D.D., an unaccompanied piece by Jeffrey Agrell. Her performance here, as in the
concerto, was a tour de force.

Even if Koehne’s concerto doesn’t really meet the criteria for inclusion in the Great Classics series, it was certainly worth an airing. It would be an exaggeration to say that its melodies imprint themselves indelibly on the mind. Instead, they tend to riffle the circumference of the consciousness. Much of it is couched in gently stated, pastoral sequences, rather like slightly down-market Vaughan Williams – and would, I felt, have served admirably as background music for one or other TV series set in rolling English meadowland. And there’s much in the first movement that has an American big band a la Gershwin feel to it.

Making his Perth debut, conductor Federico Cortese demonstrated the skill and musicality that have won him golden opinions worldwide. Under his direction, the overture to Rossini’s The Siege of Corinth flashed into life. Cortese did wonders in securing from the first violins rapid, high-register passagework that was a model of its kind for clarity and tonal sheen. Throughout the overture (given its first performance by the WASO in 45 years), there was impeccable chording from the brass and woodwind choirs – and the care with which Cortese coaxed tonal light and shade from his forces yielded substantial listening dividends. And Rossini’s trademark extended crescendo in the overture’s closing moments brought the piece to an end with a bang.

Cortese’s conducting of excerpts from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet (not least in the opening pages where the WASO played as if their lives depended on it) left one with the impression that this was score close to the heart of the conductor. I specially admired Cortese’s treatment of the Love Scene, drawing orchestral responses in near-faultless taste from the WASO while maintaining a sense of onward momentum at slow speed, a very real feat of musicianship. Throughout, the WASO was very much on its collective toes; it did wodners, too, in the Queen Mab scherzo; it was model of fragile textures at high speed. Bravo!

Copyright 2003 Neville Cohn

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