Tag Archives: Dvorak

Dvorak: Violin Concerto: Legends opus 59



Richard Tognetti (violin)



Nordic Chamber Orchestra



Christian Lindberg (conductor)

TPT: 70’17”






reviewed by Neville Cohn




By most accounts, Dvorak was a gruff, no-nonsense sort of character who didn’t suffer fools gladly. But insofar as the composition of his Violin Concerto is concerned, he demonstrated a forbearance that verged on the saintly. He’d been commissioned to write the work by Fritz Simrock, he of the famous firm of music publishers.


Dvorak, himself a violinist of ability, demonstrated humility in sending the score to Joseph Joachim, the greatest violinist of his day. In response to Joachim’s suggestions, Dvorak completely rewrote the work but when he sent the new version to Joachim, the latter took an incredible two YEARS to deliver his verdict.


His comments were largely negative. The work, he opined, was not yet ready for performance, the orchestration too dense. Had Dvorak at this point thrown up his hands in despair and abandoned the project, it would have been understandable. But, saint-like, he laboured on. Then, a Simrock employee found further fault. Here, though, Dvorak drew the line – and the concerto was finally published. Intriguingly, Joachim never ever played the concerto.


Soloist Richard Tognetti is in fine fettle here. In the opening allegro ma non troppo, he expresses Dvorak’s ideas in altogether convincing, toughly assertive terms. And how beautifully the soloist phrases the themes of the slow movement with notes clothed in tone of the most agreeable kind.


Throughout, conductor Christian Lindberg presides over events with understated authority. And the folksy, cheerful ideas of the finale, with their obeisance to some of Dvorak’s much loved Slavonic dances, could hardly have been better presented. I cannot imagine anyone failing to fall under the spell of this engaging music.


Dvorak’s Legends will never supplant his Slavonic Dances in the hearts and minds of an international constituency but  they are still well worth an occasional airing. And they are beautifully played here. 

Piers Lane (piano) with W.A.Symphony Orchestra


Perth Concert Hall                                           

and in recital at

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn


In one of the most compelling performances from the W.A.Symphony Orchestra this year, it became again abundantly clear that when the right person is on the conductor’s podium, the orchestra is capable of formidable feats. With Czech-born Jakub Hrusa presiding over events, the WASO strings were wonderfully on their mettle in the overture to Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. Absolute clarity, accuracy at high speed and buoyant momentum brought this listener to the edge of his seat. Later, we heard Piers Lane in top form as he brought infallible fingers and unflagging energy to what came across as unusually macho Mozart.


I’ve not before heard the Piano Concerto K482 (or any other by Mozart for that matter) given such virile treatment. It is one of Mozart’s most brutally demanding piano scores – and Lane, firing on all musical pistons, was more than up to the challenge. This was as far from the Dresden-china-delicate, tinkle-finger school of Mozart piano playing as one could imagine. This was heroic, robust stuff that in less than assured hands might well have sounded grotesquely inappropriate. It’s a measure of Lane’s superlative musicality and musicianship that he brought it off in so triumphant a way. And the peekaboo insouciance that informed the finale was a delicious contrast to what had gone before. Bravo!


Woodwind and brass choirs were quite rightly given special acknowledgement at concerto’s end.


An account of Dvorak’s Noonday Witch was less uniformly satisfying; it lacked the  energy and precision that had informed the Smetana performance. However, in Janacek’s Taras Bulba, which Hrusa conducted from memory (as was the Dvorak work), the initiative was retrieved in a way that ensured that the inherent turbulence of the score was evoked to splendid effect. Anguish, terror and horror are the emotional building blocks of the score and how effectively Hrusa and the WASO brought that home to the listener as one massive climax after the other was hurled into the auditorium.


On Sunday, Piers Lane came to Government House Ballroom. Whether in so hackneyed a piece as Mendelssohn’s Bee’s Wedding or enchanting the ear with a series of waltzes by Schubert – how rarely these little gems figure in recitals these days – Lane was at the top of his game with flawless fingerwork and an intuitive grasp of style.


Brahms’ gigantic Sonata in F minor is not for timid pianists. It requires fearless fingers, great feats of memorisation and endurance to stay the course – and on all three counts Lane was beyond reproach. In the opening allegro maestoso, he negotiated ferociously difficult chordal leaps with majestic aplomb – and in the sonata’s more introspective moments, he mined the music for all its intimate subtleties. Lane did wonders, too, in navigating a sure way through the goblinesque moments of the scherzo.


Apart from the ubiquitous Bee’s Wedding, the second of the group of Mendelssohn Songs Without Words was lovingly fashioned, with a warm-toned legato line to staccato accompaniment. It was one of the gems of the afternoon.


Of a bracket of Chopin Nocturnes, I particularly admired opus 15 no 1 in F; the melancholy beauty of its outer sections was impeccably essayed – and in the central episode Lane did wonders with its churning figurations. In the Nocturne in D flat from opus 27, which is some of Chopin’s most deeply probing music, Lane responded with an answering depth of feeling and the sort of cantabile tone that would surely have tempted even the grumpiest bird from a twig.


Not the least of the pleasures of this recital was Lane’s linking commentary at which he is so inordinately skilled. He is one of the very few musicians who does this sort of thing very well unlike so many others whose progress to the microphone is observed with a sinking feeling.


Lane romped through Schulz-Evler’s excruciatingly difficult take on Strauss’ Blue Danube and then brought the house down with Dudley Moore’s riotously funny Beethoven spoof played on the Ballroom’s magnificent new Fazioli grand piano.


Present at this packed-out and noisily appreciative recital were Mr Fazioli, head of the famous Italian piano-building family – and the Governor of Western Australia and Mrs Michael who cut the bright yellow ribbon wrapped around the piano before the recital began. 


By any standards, this Fazioli instrument is a magnificent piano and just the sort that’s needed for the increasingly frequent concerts given at this venue. It was altogether appropriate that the honour of ‘christening’ the piano was given to Lane, one of our most cherished musicians.

Concentration Camp Music


by Neville Cohn




Francesco Lotoro

Francesco Lotoro

In the closing months of Word War II, a platoon of soldiers led by a young South African – then-23-year-old Major Gideon Francois ‘Jake’ Jacobs – parachuted on to the island of Sumatra to liberate the civilian inmates of a Japanese internment camp for whom Jacobs would ever after be known as ‘the man who came from heaven’. Jacobs subsequently became military governor of Sumatra, going on to a distinguished career in South Africa as academic and politician.



Karel page from NONETT written on hygienic paper in the Pankrac' prison

Karel page from NONETT written on hygienic paper in the Pankrac' prison



Shortly before Jacobs’ arrival, the inmates of that camp had given a performance of choral miniatures. That long-ago performance, and the rehearsal preparation that came before it, was an attempt by two remarkable women to counter the effect of despair, boredom and illness that were all-pervasive in the camp.  Norah Chambers and Margaret Dryburgh, a missionary, had set the ball rolling by painstakingly notating versions of popular classics on scraps of hoarded paper – the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Grieg’s Morning from Peer Gynt, Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude and Dvorak’s Largo movement from the New World Symphony. (In an astonishing instance of synchronicity, a woman in the Ravensbruck concentration camp also arranged the Dvorak piece for women’s choir.)


At that unique concert in the Sumatra camp, the audience consisted of Japanese guards and internees. The ‘vocal orchestra’ singers, most frail from starvation and illness, were not strong enough to stand. Instead, they sang while sitting down. And as fellow-internee nursing sister Vivian Bullwinkel recalled, “we experienced a wonderful surge of optimism and hope – and that was a real comfort.”


There were also internment camps in Australia and the UK. After the promulgation of Germany’s anti-semitic Nuremberg Laws in the years leading up to World War II, numbers of German and Austrian Jewish musicians were granted political asylum in the UK. But when war broke out, their formal status changed from refugee to that of enemy alien. Some remained in internment camps in the UK but others were sent by boat to detention camps in Australia. The most famous of these ships was the Dunera and among the detainees, who came to be known as the Dunera boys, were Rabbi Boaz Bishopswerder of the Berlin Reform Synagogue who used his time on board ship to compose his Fantasia Judaica  for violin and piano. And, while detained in Tatura, the rabbi’s son Felix Werder wrote his Symphony No 1, eventually becoming one of Australia’s most respected musicians.







On the other side of the world in a German Stalag in Silesia, a French POW, trying to stave off boredom, embarked on a composition to be played by three fellow POWs and himself as pianist. It’s written for an instrumental ensemble not often encountered in mainstream classical music – piano, violin, cello and clarinet. And the composer, ever practical, carefully avoided the use of any notes which did not function properly on the ramshackle instruments that were all the players had at their disposal at that most unusual premiere. The composer was Olivier Messiaen and the work, now known to millions, was A Quartet for the End of Time. Of all music created in prisons of one sort or another, this work is almost certainly the best known. And in Japanese POW camps in Taiwan and Manchuria, Colonel Edmund J. Lilley countered the soul-destroying boredom of captivity by writing a set of American songs.


But during World War II, far and away the greatest amount of music of many kinds and of varying quality was composed in nazi concentration camps. But works were also composed in a variety of other detention facilities such as military prisons and conventional POW camps across Europe as well as in the UK. One can only marvel at the power of the creative impulse that enabled musicians to write music in an environment devoid of compassion, camps which, at their worst, were like horrifying anterooms to Hell.


It is very largely due to the tireless efforts of Francesco Lotoro  that so much of this music has been retrieved from near-oblivion, much of it now available on compact disc. Lotoro points out that “the level of creativity in a camp such as Theresienstadt was so great that, in order for the only piano there – a battered upright instrument – to be available to composers and pianists in an equitable way, a roster had to be drawn up allowing each musician to have use of the piano for thirty minutes at a time.”


Twelve CDs have now been released and Lotoro envisages at least another 12 compact discs to record all the music deriving from concentration camps.


Lotoro is an Italian-born pianist, conductor and music historian. Rescuing and recording music written in prisons has become his life’s work. But Lotoro points out that he is not the first musician to have taken on this work. Before he came on the scene, others were trying to conserve and catalogue music from the camps. He cites, for instance, Aleksander Kulisiewicz.


 “He was a trained singer in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and a victim of cruel medical experiments by the nazis, operations that resulted in the loss of his fine voice.” After the war, Kulisiewicz compiled lists not only of compositions but also poetry written in the camps but these have yet to be published. He effectively got the ball rolling. Lotoro estimates there are almost 4,000 concentration camp compositions which he likens, in extent, to the spoken testimonies from Holocaust survivors, an enormous project initiated by famed movie director Steven Spielberg.


For Lotoro, the task of gathering music scores continues – “there are libraries to be explored, antiquarian shops of various kinds around Europe to visit. It will be necessary (in the long term) to set up a central archive of such music, catalogued and kept under one roof rather than have these scores being kept in a variety of museums and libraries around the world.”


Lotoro also makes the important point that with time running out, survivors still able to recall music that does not as yet exist on paper ought to be encouraged to put notes on paper. “For instance, there is an opera – Karel Svenk’s Long Life to Life – that some survivors of Theresienstadt, now living in Israel, still sing by heart. But there is no written score – and we need to notate it soon otherwise it will vanish with the passing of those who can still remember it.”


Theresienstadt, near Prague in Czechoslovakia, had originally been built as a garrison town. It had facilities for a population of  7,000. But when the two arch-nazis and chief planners of genocide – Reinard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann –  chose Theresienstadt primarily as a transit camp for Jews en route to the death camps such as Auschwitz, the population grew to 60,000. Among those imprisoned here by the Germans, were Jewish war veterans, some decorated for valour, who had fought in the Prussian Army during World War 1. Their loyalty to Germany in WWI counted for nothing in the camps


In this overcrowded place, in terribly oppressive conditions, there was an amazing creative flowering as one work after another poured from the pens of imprisoned musicians: Gideon Klein wrote a fine piano sonata and arranged a set of Czech and Russian folk songs (his death has never been confirmed but he is thought to have perished as a slave labour in a salt mine); Pavel Haas wrote his Piano Sonatas Nos 5, 6 & 7 – and Viktor Ullmann wrote the opera The King of Atlantis.(Johann Marcus, one of Ullmann’s sons, survived and lives permanently in a psychiatric hospital in England).And Hans Krasa wrote a childrens’ opera Brundibar. These works have since become internationally known.


One of the blackest days at Theresienstadt was 17 October 1944. Lotoro says that “within the space of a few hours, an entire generation of composers, virtuoso pianists,  philosophers and artists died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz to which they had been deported from Theresienstadt.”


Many of these often-transcendentally gifted people were cut down in their prime. Among those slaughtered was the 15-year-old Jiri  Kummermann  who left a String Quartet and a text book of harmony and counterpoint exercises. Another teenager – Petr Ginz – not a musician, has left a deeply moving diary of his experiences; while in Theresienstadt, he founded and edited a camp newspaper before being transported to Auschwitz where he was killed.


Lotoro has made it his life’s work to not only rescue, edit and record as much concentration camp music as possible but to interview as many survivors of the period as possible (now very few in number) as well as descendants of murdered musicians.


“Karl Berman was a survivor of Auschwitz: he was liberated by American troops. He lost his entire family in the camps”, said Lotoro. “After the war, he continued his vocal studies in Prague and became a celebrated opera singer. I met him in Prague in 1992. He was very old and was to die three years later. It was a very moving experience. The old man gave me a recording he’d made of four songs, settings of Chinese poems that Pavel Haas had composed for him shortly before dying in an Auschwitz gas chamber.”


Lotoro added that in Prague, he’d also met Stepan Lucky who had been training as a virtuoso pianist when the war began. “When I met him in 1993, I asked him for his autograph which he gave me after writing it with a shaking hand; it was illegible. The German soldiers deliberately crippled his right hand. So, unable to play the piano, he became a composer instead.”


Some musicians who had survived the camps tried to block out their experiences. Lotoro says that when he visited Frantisek Domazlicki and played a piano piece the old man had written in the camps, he became angry as if he wanted no reminders of that terrible time. “Instead, he gave me a copy of a Sonata for trombone drums and piano.


“I had a similar reaction when I wrote to Felix Werder in Melbourne asking if he could send me some psalm settings he’d made in the Tatura camp in Australia . ‘I will send them to you but please don’t ask me anything concerning that period. I am very old and tired’”. Werder, who wrote a good deal of avant-garde music in Australia, was music critic for The Age newspaper for many years.


In the Warsaw Ghetto, in terrible conditions. Wladyslaw  Szpillman (whose life was made into the Roman Polansky movie The Pianist) composed  his Concertino for piano and orchestra.


Although it was the Jews of Europe who, more than any other group, were singled out for murder by the Nazis, there were others, fewer in number, who perished in the camps: gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses such as Eric Frost who composed a hymn in Sachsenhausen which is still sung by Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations.  Polish Catholics imprisoned in Dachau wrote a puppet opera on a Christmas theme. And in a detention camp in Rumania,  Zdenko Karol  Rund  wrote a setting of the Mass called Salve Mater Polonia .


Lotoro and his colleagues have been working tirelessly to retrieve, edit, study and perform an immense amount of music. Not all of it is at the highest level of creativity and in style and format ranges from standard classical forms such as sonatas to cabaret and music theatre, music primarily for children, jazz and sacred music. The KZ MUSIK CDs are available on the Musikstrasse label.


Copyright 2008 Neville Cohn

University of Western Australia Choral Society

Winthrop Hall


reviewed by Neville Cohn

Listening to that most ecstatic of motets – Exultate Jubilate – invariably calls to mind Dvorak’s comment that Mozart is sunshine. Even the words of the motet suggest radiance, such as fulget amica dies which means “the friendly, happy day shines forth”. And soprano Katja Webb very effectively captured the happy essence of the writing in an all-Mozart concert to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth. Vocal tone, other than some notes in the lower register where some power was lost, carried effectively to the furthest corner of Winthrop Hall. Occasionally, though, some notes in rapid vocal passagework were not as clearly defined as one might have hoped.

Mozart’s great motet was heard in the context of a larger work – the Coronation Mass. Here, conductor John Beaverstock demonstrated once again that in his choice of tempi, he has the happy knack of setting a pace that is both appropriate and manageable. This was especially so in the Gloria during which Beaverstock coaxed from his choral forces responses of great intensity. And the Credo, too, came across, as it should, as a mighty affirmation, an impression reinforced by an emphatic, unflagging beat. Laurels to the trombones here. The opening measures of the Sanctus were like a blaze of light, the University of W.A.Choral Society sounding at its best here. And alto Sarah Dougiamas was in fine form in the Agnus Dei.

The choir was altogether convincing in Ave Verum in which Beaverstock succeeded in maintaining a sense of onward momentum at slow speed, a feat of commendable musicianship. But the mood so carefully generated was largely ruined by latecomers thoughtlessly – and with noisy footsteps – wandering around the hall which begs the question: why are latecomers admitted mid-work?

After the interval, choral intonation proved problematical in Dixit Dominus and the Magnificat from Vesperae Solennes. One longed here for greater clarity of inner vocal lines.

2006 is the 75th anniversary year of the UWA Choral Society, a notable milestone for an ensemble that has brought a wealth of new music as well as established classics to the city, much of it during the stewardship of the late Sir Frank Callaway. Among first performances given in the city under Callaway’s direction were those of Verdi’s Requiem, Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. Another conductor under whose direction the Society flourished was John Winstanley. The Society’s next concert takes place in October and will focus on music by Western Australian composers including emeritus professor David Tunley and Dom Moreno of New Norcia. Full details are available on the choir’s website www.uwacs.com.au

Copyright 2006