Tag Archives: Insouciance

Piano Grande!

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn

If you have not previously heard of Bo An Lu, make a note of the name. If his account of the first movement of Tchaikowsky’s Piano Concerto in B flat minor is anything to go by, this sixteen-year-old is on a fast track to the stars.

Seemingly unruffled by one of music’s greatest challenges – and a TEE exam the following day – Bo An employed fearless fingers to hurl massive blocks of sound, Zeus-like, into the auditorium. By any standards, this was a remarkable achievement not least for expounding Tchaikowsky’s musical argument in so lucid, mature and heroic a way. Mark Coughlan provided excellent backing on a second piano.

Fazioli  pianos are few and far between in Perth – and to have two of these magnificent and very costly concert grands temporarily under a single roof would have been a first for the city. And nine fine musicians fronted up to put these instruments to the test with both players and pianos emerging with honour enhanced. This was a piano extravaganza to cherish.

A gem of the afternoon was Romance by Rachmaninov. A particularly tricky logistic challenge for three musicians and six hands at a single keyboard, it was an admirably expressive offering by Graeme Gilling, Emily Green-Armytage and Lyn Garland.

Very much noisier Rachmaninov – his Suite No 2 for two pianos – was essayed by Green-Armytage and Adam Pinto who generated very high decibel levels for which the Ballroom was really too small a venue. The Concert Hall would have been preferable for this.

There was also some delightful insouciance in the form of  Poulenc’s L’embarquement pour Cythere which came across courtesy of Garland and Coughlan.

Also at this concert marking Zenith Music’s 40th anniversary, was the quite remarkably poised seven-year old Shuan Lee who, with his father Yoon Sen Lee, gave us an arrangement for two pianos of themes from Yellow River Concerto and Homeland.

Gilling and Coughlan also played, most sensitively, Percy Grainger’s Blithe Bells – a re-working of Bach’s serene Sheep May Safely Graze – and were joined by Garland and Pinto in Smetana’s Rondo in C, frankly charmless music that sounded a simulation of peasants engaged in a heavy-footed, bucolic dance. There was also music by Mozart in the form of a movement from a sonata for two pianos played by Kathy Chow, another gifted 16-year-old, and Yoon Sen Lee.

At this memorable offering by of some the city’s most accomplished pianists, the crowded audience included many of Perth’s leading piano teachers.

Barry Palmer, whose speech had the inestimable advantage of brevity, paid tribute to the Cranfield family who have made so singular a contribution to the music life of the city.

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.

Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky)

Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky)
Scott Davie (piano)


Piano Sonata No 1; Fragments;

Oriental Sketch; Piano Piece in D

minor; Piano Piece in A flat


ABC Classics 476 3166


reviewed by Neville Cohn



Scott Davie provides one of the most satisfying recordings of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition currently available on compact disc. His musicality runs like a silken thread through the performance.

Recorded sound is exceptionally fine – it is in the best sense “real” – allowing the listener to savour Davies’ interpretative probings to the full. There’s not a dull moment in a performance brimming with insights that make even the meanest succession of notes eminently listenable.

The Promenade episodes that dot the score are a case in point. In lesser hands, they can so easily sound routine, even humdrum. Not so here. In turn strident and gentle, they are like fine musical sorbets that provide the aural equivalent of clearing the palate between courses at a sumptuous feast.

If ever there was a work in which the first rate is inspired by the third rate, it is this. Had Mussorgsky not written this work – triggered by drawings and paintings of his friend Victor Hartmann – it is almost certain these quite ordinary efforts would long since have disappeared into history’s rubbish bin. But Mussorgsky’s wonderfully imaginative work – written in homage to his friend who ahd die aged a mere 39 years – ensures that his friend’s lacklustre drawings will be thought of as long as this keyboard masterpiece remains in the standard repertoire.

Consider Davies’ account of Bydlo. How masterfully he suggests – in the most unequivocal of terms – the ponderous, lumbering nature of a ox-drawn wooden cart. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks is another gem, its insouciance coming across with featherlight buoyancy. By contrast, Catacombs, with its overlay of a tolling, treble-register bell, has about it an all-encompassing mood of desolation, of sadness beyond sadness.

In the first movement of the Rachmaninov Sonata, Davies marshals its tsunami of notes with remarkable success, giving to this epic utterance a sense of structure that would elude most others game enough to play it. Certainly, the wildness that lies at the heart of much of the first movement is impressively conveyed. Davies, too, manages to make the meretricious note spinning that is the finale sounds far better than it really is.

In a bracket of miniatures, Davies does wonders with Fragments coming across as a hushed essay in wistfulness. And one could hardly imagine a more sympathetic interpreter of the Piano Piece in D minor, its mournful essence judged to a nicety.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn