Tag Archives: Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

Die Walkure (Wagner)

Die Walkure (Wagner)



The State Opera of South Australia
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Asher Fisch (conductor)

MR 310191-94 TPT: 3:43:00

reviewed by Neville Cohn



He was incorrigibly vain, pathologically self-centered, a liar, a serial adulterer, an anti-semite, a cheat and opportunist, amoral and often on the run from the law. This thoroughly unpleasant man was also one of the 19th century’s most abundantly gifted figures.

Three hours and forty three minutes is a very considerable length of time to focus unremittingly – as critics ideally need to do – on a single opus. Over nearly four hours, it is all too easy for the attention to waver. But then, I can recall only too well that boredom – cosmic tedium, in fact – can set in in far shorter periods of time if performance standards are wanting in one way or another. And there are limitless temptations to sink into the arms of Morpheus during the unfolding of so vast an enterprise as Wagner’s Die Walkure unless the narrative pace is maintained. It is an absolutely crucial requirement.

Would Rossini’s gibe that Wagner’s operas had splendid moments but terrible half hours be justified in this recorded performance? The Ring, after all, unfolds extremely slowly. Would it wither embarrassingly on the vine?

How, I wondered, would I fare as I placed the first of four compact discs in the player and seated myself on the hardest, least comfortable, chair (to limit the possibility of nodding off if this was to prove a very extended exercise in dreariness)?

The short answer is that time flew – and as the hands moved round and round the clockface, not even its chimes on the hour succeeded in deflecting attention from the magic pouring from the speakers.

This recording is an exceptional achievement. It sets new and lofty standards for Wagnerian expression in Australia. It will surely become the performance by which all other Wagner offerings in Australia will be measured for some time to come – and justifiably so.

An impressive cast rises quite magnificently to the occasion. In fact, this vocal excellence is so uniform that it would be frankly invidious to single out individuals. Whether in leading or ancillary roles, there is total identification with the requirements of the parts – and not only in purely physical terms.

If ever a performance of Walkure pierced to the heart of the composer’s intentions, it is surely this. Here is an account that throbs with sincerity.

Truth is a word too casually bandied about, so much so that its currency has been largely debased. But in the sense of its definition as a faithful reproduction of an aesthetic endeavour, this recorded performance comes as close as makes no matter to being just that. And that is a signal achievement for a company far from the European epicentre of Wagnerian tradition. This, in fact, places Australia – and Adelaide in particular – very much on the Wagnerian map of the world.

In their uniformity of tonal sheen, the ASO strings should make every other orchestral string section in the land look to their laurels. They sound electrifyingly fine in the prelude to the opera with conductor Asher Fisch doing wonders in obtaining from his forces a remarkably effective, buoyant quality. And the ASO as a whole does wonders in Ride of the Valkyries – and how splendid, for once, to listen to The Ride not as a stand-alone concert offering but integrated, as Wagner meant it to be, into the work as a whole. This recording is the profound progeny of a happy marriage between Wagnerian scholarship and high inspiration.


Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn

Tuba Concertos

Tuba Concertos
Peter Whish-Wilson (tuba) and friends


Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
David Stanhope (conductor)

ABC Classics 476 525-1
TPT: 1:08:33

reviewed by Neville Cohn






For too many who ought to know better, the tuba is inextricably – and exclusively – linked with the celebrated Hoffnung concerts as well as innumerable Hollywood cartoons which poke (mostly gentle) fun at tubas as well as those playing them.

This splendid compact disc compilation should put the record straight; the tuba is as challenging to master as any other brass instrument – and when it is in the hands of a master – as is very much the case here – the results are extraordinarily satisfying.

Listening to Whish-Wilson calls Larry Adler to mind. He, too, did pioneer work on an instrument that few thought of in really serious terms. Listen to the tuba line in Vaughan Williams’ concerto. Whether in the march-like rhythms of the opening, revealing the lyrical essence of the slow movement or demonstrating extraordinary control of the instrument in quicksilver-rapid flourishes in the finale, Whish-Wilson is clearly master of the moment. Certainly, the buoyant, aerial quality that informs the solo line in the finale would surely persuade even the most anti-tuba types that there is far more to the instrument than the gag writers on comic shows would have us believe.

There’s more engaging listening in William Lovelock’s Concerto for Bass Tuba. Whish-Wilson’s artistry is particularly evident in the opening as he gives point and meaning to the whimsical, sunny essence of the writing, prattling away in delightful dialogue with the accompanying orchestra directed, as throughout, by a consistently accommodating Stanhope. And if the slower central section of the concerto is something of a dull patch, there’s seemingly effortless, sure-footed agility in the lively finale.

A compilation such as this, travelling as it does along musical byways seldom trodden by most listeners, would surely be a journey of discovery for many – and of a most charming kind to boot.

How many, for instance, would be familiar with Alec Wilder’s Tuba Suite No 1, subtitled Effie the Elephant? Originally conceived for tuba and piano, here it can be heard in a version for tuba, strings and harp arranged by Irving Rosenthal, one of music’s more versatile figures. Trained as a French horn player, he not only worked in symphony orchestras but also as a core member of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Late in life, he came to Adelaide to
teach and, hearing Whish-Wilson playing the suite in its original state ie with piano, proposed the arrangement here recorded. This is the first time it has been available in this version on CD.

I particularly liked the second of the suite of six pieces: Effie Falls in Love, memorable for the tuba’s velvety mellow tone.

It is the finale of Michael Kenny’s Concerto for Tuba that lingers in the memory, not least for its infectiously jovial interior mood. And the nocturne-like third movement of Swedish composer Christer Danielsson’s Concertante Suite for tuba and four horns has a most beguiling, hushed quality.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn