Tag Archives: Expressiveness

BALLET – Onegin



W.A.Ballet Company

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth

reviewed by Alice Woode


Mood-wise, this production of Onegin near-perfectly captures the autumnal essence of Pushkin’s immortal tale of love and despair.


In visual terms, its muted, finely balanced colours in both lighting, costumes and decor evoke bittersweet nuances of a tale of love spurned and lost, disappointment and violent death.


Jayne Smeulders is an altogether convincing Tatiana. In the famous letter scene, she could hardly be faulted, beautifully conveying the tragic heroine’s infatuation with Onegin and her devastation when she realises he does not return her affections. Melissa Boniface, too, is entirely persuasive as Tatiana’s sister Olga.

Jayne Smeulders and Jiri Jelinek RES

Jayne Smeulders and Jiri Jelinek
Photo Credit – Jon Green

Lavish bouquets for the manner in which technical skill and expressiveness blend to often moving effect in all the pas de deux in which Smeulders and Boniface are partnered by Jiri Jelinek in the title role and Dane Holland as Lensky;  these were the gems of the production, with finely honed technique and a world of disciplined emotion.

It was only in the duel scene where inspiration seemed to flag; it lacked the intensity and high drama that were needed.


One of the many delights of the production is the quality of the corps de ballet. With disciplined fluidity of movement and first rate ensemble, the corps’ dancing is like a silver thread through the production. The charm-laden ball scene in which both young and decrepit give comic point and meaning to the dance is in the best sense of the word diverting. Whether light-hearted or sombre, the corps come up trumps again and again. Carole Hill does wonders as Tatiana’s often hilariously fussy nursemaid.


Although the dancing is to the music of Tchaikowsky, one of the greatest of all composers for the ballet, none of it, of course, is purpose-written for the dance. Happily, though, nearly all of it fits seamlessly into the late John Cranko’s superlative choreography. A good many episodes are danced to orchestrations of some of the composer’s short pieces for piano: the haunting Autumn and the quiet rapture of the Barcarolle (both from The Seasons) – and the exquisite Nocturne from opus 19. Again and again, one is able to savour how cleverly Cranko’s choreography blends both movement and music to beguiling effect.


Imaginative lighting, too, does much to underscore the autumnal nature of the piece, an impression further enhanced by the use of Elizabeth Dalton’s wing scenery depicting, inter alia, a leafy forest that brings a charming, rather faded, mid-19th-century perspective to the production. Dalton also designed the costumes worn with great flair by the company.


At times, one wished for rather more uniform tonal sheen from the string section of the WASO.




Cameron Roberts (piano)

Keyed-Up series

Callaway Auditorium

reviewed by Phoebe Schuman


This was a recital to grip the attention of the most jaded listeners: a compilation of works all being given their first airings in Perth. This is not to suggest that the audience would have been unfamiliar with the works on offer. On the contrary, these were some of the most frequently encountered pieces in the classical repertoire but here heard, for the first time in Perth, in the form of piano transcriptions by the soloist Cameron Roberts.


But these accounts of standard repertoire – Tchaikowsky’s 1812 Overture, say, or Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and songs of Rachmaninov – were offered, not as hack reductions of well known staples but extraordinarily apposite keyboard versions that came across like a compendium of musical marvels.

  Cameron Roberts




One of the most abiding recollections of this recital was the quite astonishing wealth of detail that reached the ear, subtleties which in the original, say, at climactic high points in the 1812 Overture or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, would not necessarily have impinged on the consciousness. Here, though, we were able to detect subtleties with a clarity that was both astounding and gratifying.

An account of Summer from The Four Seasons sprang to new and fascinating life, with notes more often than not clothed in glorious tone, its movements presented like a chaplet of flawlessly fashioned gems.

I was particularly impressed with Roberts’ transcription of Rachmaninov’s song How Beautiful it is Here! Luminous tone, clarity of line and profound expressiveness made this one of the evening’s most memorable moments.

Peak of the evening lay in the keeping of Bach: the slow movement from his Concerto for 2 violins BWV 1043 was a model, not only of the transcriber’s art, but a remarkable unbottling of its gentle genie. Bravissimo!

Unsurprisingly, there were encores: another transcription – In Paradisum from Faure’s Requiem and a passionate reading of Andaluza from the 12 Spanish Dances by Granados.

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.

Recital- Government House Ballroom

Sacha McCulloch (cello)

Faith Maydwell (piano)

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville CohnCelloPianoWeb

A recital of masterworks for cello and piano at Government House Ballroom at the weekend raised funds for the Australian Red Cross. Unusually at this venue, curtains at the rear of the stage were drawn back so allowing the late afternoon sun to bathe the stage in light.

It was an account of Brahms’ Sonata for cello and piano, opus 99 that provided the most consistent listening pleasure. Here, both musicians drew from deep wells of expressiveness in a way that allowed the sonata’s cumulative grandeur to register most positively on the consciousness.

Certainly, with Maydwell at the venue’s splendid, recently acquired Fazioli grand piano – and McCulloch impressive in coaxing noble tone from the cello, especially in the lower range – one was able to savour one of Brahms’ greatest inspirations. In fact, if this had been the only item on the program, it would have been an entirely fulfilling listening experience. I dare say that unfamiliarity with the Ballroom’s acoustics may have been a factor contributing to some less than immaculate cello intonation.

Rachmaninov’s Sonata for cello and piano is not for tinkle-fingered shrinking violets. On the contrary, it requires a cool head, an iron nerve and Olympian staying power to essay this formidably demanding score. I’m happy to say that on these counts, both musicians came up trumps with playing of an impressively committed kind. More often than not, there was bracing attack and follow-through in even the most dauntingly complex episodes, and these were almost invariably a model of what fine ensemble playing is all about. Again and again while traversing the musical equivalent of a minefield, the duo seemed to relish coming to grips with its challenges. I especially admired the quality of keyboard tremolos which brought an extra frisson to the scherzo.

This epic opus makes massive demands on the players but, some less than precise cello intonation aside, both musicians emerged from this titanic musical challenge with honour largely intact.

As curtainraiser, we heard Beethoven’s Variations on a Theme by Mozart. Notationally immaculate playing with pleasing corporate tone compensated for some lack of buoyancy in presentation.

There was an extended interval with fizzy drinks on the house.

Tokyo String Quartet



Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


To listen to the Tokyo ensemble is akin to being ushered into the presence of musical demi-gods. These four superlative players have succeeded in subjugating their individuality in favour of a corporate music persona which, for decades, has enchanted audiences worldwide.


Tokyo String Quartet

Tokyo String Quartet

An account of Mendelssohn’s Quartet in A minor opus was a case in point, a glorious, flawless scaling of Olympus that left this listener groping for adjectives to convey the transcendental merit of the magnificent four.  


Most of this quartet is light years away from Mendelssohn’s trademark evocations of fairy fun. This is darker music by far, not least in the slow movement which was presented, with rich, organ-like sonorities, as a little miracle of profound expressiveness. Queen Victoria, a lifelong fan, once called Mendelssohn “a wonderful genius”. Could it have been this quartet which prompted that regal pat on the back?


Beethoven’s opus 95, his most compact utterance in chamber music, was given such superlative treatment as to be beyond criticism in the conventional sense. I dare say that had the shade of the notoriously tetchy composer hovered over the proceedings, it would surely have purred with pleasure. By even the most ferociously critical of standards, this, surely, was an interpretation that set the standard by which all other performances of the work would have to be judged.


Much the same could be said of Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade in which the four musicians, like some Midas-clones, transformed everything they touched in this amiable work to musical gold. Certainly, in the hands of the four, even the most routine succession of notes was transformed into a compelling listening experience.


Carl Vine’s Quartet no 5 is a work of many moods, ranging from the bleak to the jaunty. Early on, the music is informed by a romantic ardour that calls Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night to mind. At every point, the writing is informed by an engaging immediacy. It was beautifully played by the Tokyo Quartet in a performance which brimmed with subtle nuances of tone and tempo. I imagine that any composer would give eye teeth to have their music performed by so superb an ensemble; it was one of the evening’s many highlights.


In so democratic an institution as a string quartet, it is perhaps invidious to single out an individual for special mention. But it would be ungracious not to particularly praise the artistry of violist extraordinaire Kazuhide Isomura.  In the hands of this veteran of countless concerts, the viola, that most treacherous of string instruments, did his bidding beautifully as it sang for its master with a rare purity of pitch and tone.