Tag Archives: Matthias Bamert

Yuri Bashmet (viola) with W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Yuri Bashmet (viola)
with W.A.Symphony Orchestra


Matthias Bamert, conductor

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Black-clad from head to toe, his angular features framed by long, jet-dark hair, Yuri Bashmet, eerily resembling the legendary violinist Paganini, cuts a striking, sombre figure.

He stands before a truncated W.A.Symphony Orchestra. It is a most singular sight – the WASO minus all its violins. It is as if the viola, that Cinderella of the strings section, must, for once, have no competition at all from its brighter-toned cousins, nothing to detract from its bleak majesty. In place of the absent violins are three keyboard instruments with Graeme Gilling at the piano, Cathie Travers seated at the celeste and Faith Maydwell playing the harpsichord.

Bashmet, as is well known, is a prince of the viola, a musical magician capable of making it sing in a way that few can emulate – or ever could. It comes alive in his hands. But in Alfred Schnittke’s Viola Concerto, its song is one of almost unrelieved sadness, even despair. The concerto is, in fact, one of the most sombre in the entire canon; for the most part it explores a world of emotional darkness where the chief sounds are cries of pain or anguish or regret.

But it is not always so. Every now and again, there is a brief departure from this claustrophobic gloom – a folksy little dance episode, a lilting snatch of waltz. But these vignettes do little to raise the pall that hangs over the work; they are overwhelmed by its pessimism. And even in the central allegro molto of the concerto, where then music is far busier than in the movements that flank it, the prevailing moods are those of urgency and panic, expressed in tone of astonishing power.

There’s a huge, sustained ovation at concerto’s end for a superbly probing performance; it is thoroughly deserved. Bashmet is a generous soloist; he insists on acknowledging conductor Matthias Bamert and orchestra for a job well done. He is particularly warm in his gestures to his fellow violists in the WASO. And after being presented with the obligatory bouquet of flowers, he gallantly tosses it to Sophie Kesoglidis in the viola section.

This is no run-of-the-mill concert for Kesoglidis; she is on study leave in Melbourne but makes the trip back to Perth just for the experience of playing in an orchestra that accompanies this most august exponent of the instrument.

Bashmet’s gallant gesture is a charming, light-hearted move which dissipates the gloom of what had gone before like the sun peeping over the rim of a black cloud.

Earlier, we heard the WASO in a transcription for orchestra by Stokowski (with whom Bamert had worked as a young conductor gaining valuable experience) of Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV582. It unfolds with commendable style and taste; it is one of Stokowski’s less vulgar and violently coloured orchestrations and makes a fine curtain raiser. And after interval, Bamert presides over an account of Brahms’ Symphony No 4 paying as much attention to detail as conveying the grand sweep of the work.

Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn

W.A.Symphony Orchestra Andreas Haefliger (piano) Matthias Bamert (conductor)

W.A.Symphony Orchestra
Andreas Haefliger (piano)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Matthias Bamert (conductor)

Perth Concert Hall


Making his first appearance with the W.A.Symphony Orchestra, Swiss musician Andreas Haefliger was soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.

Over many decades, I have lost count of the number of times I have listened to this ageless masterpiece – in live performance, on radio and recordings – but I cannot recall a reading so startlingly forthright, even aggressive, as Haefliger’s. With its heroics, it was an unusual take on a much-loved concerto.

In the famous cadenza towards the conclusion of the first movement, the soloist weighed in with a thrustingly in-your-face treatment of the notes that took this listener aback – so much so that the poetry inherent in much of the writing took second place to muscularity. But the extended trills that play a significant part from the end of the cadenza to the conclusion of the movement were near-flawlessly spun.

Here was an interpretation that was overwhelmingly (although not exclusively) virile and passionate in its treatment of the score but rather less persuasive in evoking the tenderness and quiet reflection that lie at the heart of much of the writing. And from a seat in the 17th row, there was in the finale what sounded an over-generous use of the damper pedal which often blurred outlines and lessened the impact of Schumann’s fascinating rhythmic intricacies.

Throughout, Matthias Bamert was a loyally supportive conductor, meticulously anticipating his compatriot’s every musical intention and drawing from the WASO a response that was, for the most part, as vigorous as the playing of the soloist.

Warm applause and a floral bouquet wrapped in shiny paper elicited an encore that, coming after such a robust reading of the concerto, was a delightful surprise. In his account of Schumann’s The Prophet Bird (from Waldszenen), Haefliger beautifully captured the fragile, restrained essence of the music which, with extraordinary authenticity, evokes images of this curious fowl’s idiosyncratic body language.

Despite outbursts of unwanted and maddeningly insistent clapping between movements of Mahler’s vast and sprawling Symphony No 1, these discourtesies (which broke out like an unsightly rash) seemed not noticeably to put Bamert and his forces off their stroke as this mammoth opus unfolded. In passing: if, at the conclusion of a movement, the conductor had held his baton raised, this – based on decades of observing audience attitudes – is usually sufficient for even compulsive handclappers to get the message and hold their peace.

It is no mean achievement for a conductor to commit a work of this length and complexity to memory – and the confidence that stems from that grasp of the score seemed to rub off, as it were, on the musicians of the orchestra.

It was a good night for the strings, not least cellos and double basses who responded to Mahler’s demands with stylish aplomb. And apart from some sour notes from the off-stage trumpets early in the piece, the WASO’s brass players were on their musical toes, especially the horn subsection, all eight of whom stood as they played the closing pages of Mahler’s Titan.

As curtainraiser, we heard Carl Vine’s V which, with its fanfares and syncopated rhythms, sounded very much more convincing in the near-perfect acoustic environment of the Concert Hall than when first encountered at an open air performance at Langley Park some while ago.

Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn