W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

review by Neville Cohn

 

WA Symphony OrchestraI was surprised to read in the printed program that the WASO’s performance at the weekend of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy was the first time it has been played since 1972.

 

Perhaps one of the reasons for this near-half century absence from its programs is that the work is often thought of as little more than a trial run for Beethoven’s Symphony No 9.  But for those with ears to hear, the Fantasy is a work of magnificence which deserves to be performed far, far more frequently than is the case.

 

Asher Fisch, who is as versatile as he is gifted, presided over events from the keyboard, seated at the piano with his back to the audience. As well, the piano lid had been removed to enable conductor, orchestra, and singers to see one another. But the vice of this virtue was that with the lid removed, piano sound was not as effectively directed into the auditorium so that Asch’s immensely authoritative playing was not heard to best advantage.

 

Laurels to both the choir and the vocal soloists. Their singing was of such high standard that for much of the performance, all that this critic needed to do was to sit back and savour each delightful moment.

 

I sincerely hope that Perth concertgoers won’t have to wait a near-half century before this magnificent opus is programmed again.

 

In Beethoven’s Ninth, Fisch and his forces were no less on their musical toes. Again and again in this work of high genius, one sensed the care lavished on fine detail both instrumental and vocal. Strings were spot-on. So, too, were bassoons and oboes in rising to the work’s many challenges. Throughout, Fisch allowed the music to speak for itself, never imposing himself between audience and score, a trap into which so many lesser musicians fall.

 

I particularly liked the buoyant, jovial character of the playing and not even fleeting moments during which woodwinds were not always synchronised with the rest of the orchestra, could detract from the delightful, dance-like character of the score.

 

There was crass, unwanted applause as the vocal soloists came on-stage just before the Adagio began. But would it not have been a more practical idea for the soloists to come onstage with the conductor, taking their seats before the performance began which would have avoided this unwanted interruption to the flow of the symphony?

 

It says much for the focus and professionalism of all concerned that, notwithstanding

this interruption to the proceedings, Fisch and his forces came up trumps again and again. The opening Allegro came across magnificently, allowing one, as ever, to marvel at the sonic miracle created by a man imprisoned in a terrifying world of utter silence. The scherzo, too, reached for the heights coming across as a jovial, stamping dance.  And notwithstanding some crumpled horn notes, the adagio unfolded seamlessly.

 

In the awe-inspiring finale, trumpets did wonders – and there were wonderfully sonorous contributions from the lower strings.

 

WASO choristers: step forward and take a thoroughly deserved bow. This was one of the choir’s most meaningful moments; the polished, disciplined skill brought to the performance augurs well for upcoming concerts. As a quartet, the vocal soloists were in splendid accord, too. I particularly liked the contribution of bass soloist David Parkin who clothed each note he sang with frankly beautiful tone. Much the same could be said of Henry Choo who brought refinement and impeccable taste to everything he sang.

 

As a curtain raiser, we listened to Beethoven’s Namensfeier overture. Arguably the Master’s dullest offering, this was its first WASO outing since 1955.

 

 

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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.

 

Rachmaninov: complete piano preludes: 1941 – 1942 recordings

 

Prelude opus 3 no 2; 10 Preludes opus 23; 13 Preludes opus 32

Moura Lympany (piano)

DECCA 482 6266 (2CD)

TPT: 76’ 42”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

She was christened Mary Johnstone – but because the name sounded too ordinary for an on-stage career, Miss Johnstone became Moura Lympany, the surname an altered version of her mother’s maiden name. And she was – and will ever be – the only musician to have recorded the complete piano preludes of Rachmaninov on, firstly, 78rpm discs, then on LP and, finally, on CD.

 

All the 78rpm recordings were made at DECCA’s West Hampstead studios during WWII. It was often a stressful experience. Editing out errors was not possible on 78 rpm discs. It was all-or-nothing.

 

If there was a slip of the finger, smudged pedalling, a fluffed note, a loss of momentum – a lapse of any sort – the prelude would need to be recorded again from scratch. At one particularly frustrating session, not a single prelude was deemed good enough for preservation. Sometimes, all would go well, at other times, a piece would sound below par and needing to be recorded again and again (and yet again) if considered necessary. It says much, then, for Lympany’s abilities that there’s not a dull moment; every piece sounds fresh and newly minted.

 

During the Blitz – like fellow pianist Dame Myra Hess in Hampstead –  young Moura would take shelter beneath her grand piano in the event of a Luftwaffe bombing raid. There were so many terrible happenings during these horror years. One morning in May, 1941, for instance, Moura, on her way to Queen’s Hall to record Cesar Franck’s Variations Symphoniques, found, to her horror, that the hall had taken a direct hit, leaving a pile of rubble.

 

True, some of her later recordings of these works have greater depth, others are approached in slightly subtler ways – but they all bear the stamp of distinction.

 

Throughout, Lympany sounds utterly in control, again and again surmounting with ease the sort of technical hurdles that would cause lesser players to throw their hands up in despair. Some more about hands: Rachmaninov’s were enormous and he wrote music to take advantage of this – to the despair of  musicians with smaller hands.

 

It is 76 years since Lympany’s Rachmaninov recordings first came on the market. They have weathered well. Brash, lilting, aggressive, sensuous, gentle, melancholy, introspective, suave – these and a myriad other moods are summoned up by a musician at the peak of her skills.

 

Stephen Siek’s liner notes are first rate. They make engrossing reading.

All-Mozart compilation

various concerto soloists

Symphonies 29, 33 & 35

Concertgebouworkest

Eduard van Beinum, conductor

Eloquence 482 5525  (2CD)

TPT: 147’ 11”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Mozart CD CoverNot the least of the many good things flowing from this re-issue of Philips LP recordings in the compact disc format is making available to an entirely new constituency of listeners the work of musicians of considerable consequence whose recordings of decades ago, for a variety of reasons, have, as it were, fallen through the cracks. The tireless Cyrus Meher-Homji continues this important work with a 2CD re-issue of an all-Mozart compilation of recordings that thoroughly deserve being brought back to life.

 

As a young teenager, I was given an LP recording of Hubert Barwahser playing on the now defunct Philips label. I still have it. Here, Barwahser sounds at his eloquent, articulate best in ensemble with another almost-forgotten soloist: Phia Berghout on harp in the Concerto for flute and harp.  Yet another musician richly deserving this resurrection is the formidably gifted English pianist Kathleen Long who in the mid-20th century enjoyed a dazzling career.

 

This is vintage Long.  Listen to her playing Mozart’s C minor concerto; it’s a joy from start to finish, blissfully free of fuss or frills.

 

Presiding over events from the podium is Eduard van Beinum, a first rate musician to which the players of the Concertgebouw Orchestra would respond time and again to provide some of the most satisfying and meaningful recorded music in mid-century Europe and further abroad.

 

Bram de Wilde is a fine soloist in the Clarinet Concerto. Tone quality is particularly appealing in the chalumeau register. The work unfolds near-flawlessly.

 

Van Beinum recorded Symphony No 29 in 1957. Sixty years on, it’s as relevant and stylistically meaningful as it would have been when first made available on LP.

 

This CD is all the more to be treasured because these works are the ONLY Mozart works which van Beinum recorded with the Concertgebouworkest.

The Clarinotts

Ernst Ottensamer, Daniel Ottensamer, Andreas Ottensamer (clarinets)

with Wiener Virtuosen

Mozart, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Ponchielli et al

DGG 481 19172

TPT: 56’ 50”

reviewed by Rosalind Appleby

 

“We know what our partners will do a millisecond before they do it”, says Andreas Ottensamer, the youngest member of The Clarinotts. “It’s a luxury you’ll rarely have with any other ensemble”.

 

The incredible cohesion between the three clarinetists is what struck me on a ‘blind’ listen to The Clarinotts album – that and their uncannily similar sound quality. It made sense when I had a closer look at the performers and realised it was Ernst Ottensamer in ensemble with his sons, the famous Viennese ‘Royal Family of the Clarinet’.

 

Ernst Ottensamer is being mourned around the world after dying tragically of a heart attack on 22 July. He was only 62. Ernst was principal clarinet in the Wiener Phiharmoniker from 1983 and founding member of the Wiener Blaserensemble and Wiener Virtuosen.

 

Ernst inspired a generation of clarinettists around the world, including his own children. His eldest son Daniel became co-principal clarinet in the Vienna Philharmonic alongside his father, and his youngest son Andreas is principal clarinet in the Berlin Philharmonic. Together, the three of them formed The Clarinotts, releasing their first album in 2009 and their second in 2016.

 

The 2016 self-titled album opens with Mendelssohn’s sparkling Concert Piece No 1 for clarinet, basset horn and orchestra. The brilliant duet was composed rather appropriately for the father-son duo of Heinrich and Carl Baermann. It is full of dazzling operatic writing and I was struck by the warm, full bodied sound of the basset horn and clarinet – and the driving energy of their playing.

 

The album’s repertoire traces Ernst’s career trajectory including his time in the pit of the Vienna State Opera with works like the trio Soave sia il vento from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and the Fantasy on themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto by Franz and Karl Doppler. Dance-style works also get a look in with Rossini’s La danza quoting from the overture to William Tell and the sentimental French-style waltz of Cantilene from Francaix’s Petit Quatuor.

 

Ponchielli’s Il Convegno has both sweetness and fire. Andreas and Daniel perform with extraordinary precision, their virtuosic runs, flourishes and dramatic rubato perfectly synchronised.

 

As you would expect, this is an album of great finesse and class, accompanied by none other than the Wiener Virtuosen, an ensemble made up of the section principals of the Wiener Philharmoniker. They are certainly some of the best players for the romantic/early 20th century repertoire that dominates the first half of the album.

 

Bela Koreny’s Cinema I is based on the plot of Paul Verhoeven’s film Basic Instinct and you can feel the intrigues and the tension in Ernst’s spooky bass clarinet and the wails of Andreas’ and Daniel’s clarinets over the top, accompanied by the Wiener Virtuosen with Christoph Traxler on piano. The bossa nova tune Morning of the Carnival by Luiz Bonfa was another contrast; slick and sultry.

 

A comment for clarinet nerds: check out the almost inaudible articulation from all three. It sounds like diaphragm articulation but it has the even attack of tonguing, generating sublimely clean playing.

 

The richness of this album is the synergy of three virtuosic clarinetists who really do seem to be of one mind:  it sounds like one person multi-tracking!  But what makes it really gripping listening are the energy and emotion the Ottensamer family bring to their music making. They really pull out all the stops in Olivier Truan’s unaccompanied trio The Chase and it’s an exhilarating conclusion to the album. Turns out, it is also a fitting final bow from Ernst Ottensamer; a testimony to a life spent sharing music with excellence and passion.