Tag Archives: ABC Classics

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.

Transcendent Love – The Passions of Wagner and Strauss

Lis Gasteen, soprano

West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Simone Young, conductor

ABC Classics 476 6811

TPT: 73’41”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Let it be said at once that soprano Lisa Gasteen is ideally suited to this repertoire. She has those qualities of heart and mind essential to essay works of this kind – and she has, crucially, the ability to effortlessly ride the crest of the accompanying orchestral wave no matter how substantial that might be. I especially admired the skill and expressiveness with which she sang Traume, the first of Wagner’s famous Wesendonck Lieder, with a gently pulsing accompaniment a fine counterpoint to the vocal line. At cycle’s end, incidentally, Traume is repeated, this time with the vocal line played with commendable sensitivity by violinist John Harding who, at the time, was concertmaster of the WASO. Gasteen is equally convincing in three of Richard Strauss’ lieder: Zueignung, Heimliche Aufforderung and Allerseelen. Stylewise, they are beyond criticism.

For this listener, however, the chief joy of this recording – and this is said with all due acknowledgement of Gasteen’s formidable artistry – is the quality of string playing of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. In this sense, the most rewarding offering of the compilation is a splendidly presented Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

Here, the strings are in particularly memorable fettle, producing a uniformity of tonal sheen that lifts the performance to a special category of excellence. Here, as throughout, Simone Young presides over events with wondrous skill as she coaxes her forces to ever more meaningful effect, not least in finely sustained phrase lines. This is yet another demonstration of Young’s quite extraordinary ability to take her forces to levels which, in the ordinary course of events, the players themselves might have considered unattainable.

This was such persuasive playing that,  if the  shade of Wagner himself had hovered over the  proceedings, it might well have nodded its approval of both Young and the WASO. There is also a thoroughly worthwhile performance of Strauss’ Metamorphosen.

Jail Birds

Voices from Inside

Jonathon Welch, director

ABC Classics 476 3689

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Knowing the circumstances under which this recording was made, it is very difficult to listen to it without being moved. Here is a ‘good news’ story about a choral director with a vision and the determination to make it a reality.

All the singers in this ensemble are convicted criminals who are – or have been – serving sentences. Welch has done wonders with his choristers, not all of whom would have been trained musicians.

There are precedents for this ie in relation to obtaining vocal excellence from singers who might be musically illiterate eg the Eoan Group Opera Company in Cape Town. Through the vision and staying power of Joseph Manca, so called “coloured’ folk, who by virtue of their skin colour were declared non-white (an odious term of the apartheid government then in power) and so barred from entry to the city’s fine opera house, had their day in the sun.

Manca, with a near-saintly dedication to the job (for which he never drew a salary of any kind)  taught each vocal part parrot fashion – in the original Italian – and the results, after scores of piano rehearsals, were astonishingly professional. I can testify to the success of this initiative as I was the piano repetiteur as a very young man. The end result, drawing capacity audiences and adulatory reviews, was extraordinary and the most eloquent of rebuffs to the apartheid czars. In the most moving sense, this was a triumph over adversity.

Much the same could be said of this recording, another instance of a leader with vision and determination – and the whole-hearted co-operation of the singers proving the sceptics wrong. Performances like this don’t fall from the sky. The project would have been a non-starter without the determination and staying power of all concerned, including a co-operative officialdom.

These tracks are impressive; they deserve to be heard by the widest possible audience. It’s a thoroughly commendable offering. Listen to it; it’s heartwarming stuff – and for all the right reasons.

A percentage of royalties from the sale of this recording goes to the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.

Southern Star

Choir of Trinity College, University of Melbourne

Michael Leighton Jones, director

Marshall McGuire, harp

ABC Classics 476 6349

TPT: 63’ 11”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

The gem of this compilation is Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. The finesse that informs every moment of this exquisite work makes this one of the most satisfying recordings of the work I can recall. It’s a compendium of musical marvels. Whether in evoking the ecstatic interior mood of As Dew in Aprille, the emphatically stated This Little Babe or the rippling note streams that Marshall McGuire coaxes from his harp, this is a performance to cherish.

Britten’s delightful work is often performed, yet there’s nothing here that sounds dull or routine. On the contrary, it comes across with a newly minted freshness which is quite delightful.

McGuire is no less persuasive in Christopher Willcock’s Southern Star. The texts of this song cycle are by cartoonist extraordinaire Michael Leunig. The Trinity College choristers are in fine fettle here, sombre in the introductory Love is Born, intense and ecstatic in Christmas and, in Gul Gul Dja Mardji, the presentation is informed by an emphatically atavistic quality. I liked the bustle which informs What did you get? (a rather delightful piece about Xmas presents) – and in Real and Right and True, McGuire again comes up trumps.

William Kirkpatrick’s Away in a Manger was a joy and Andrew Carter’s Mary’s Magnificat is beautifully essayed.

A thoroughly recommend compilation.