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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.

W.A.Youth Orchestra


Perth Concert Hall


reviewed by Neville Cohn


I came to the Concert Hall on Saturday evening wondering to what effect the W.A. Youth Orchestra would engage with Stravinsky’s Rite of  Spring. This is one of the 20th century’s most complex and demanding scores, a work that even the most experienced of fulltime, professional orchestral players needs to approach with caution. It is a score that constantly challenges the players. Its rhythmic complexities are like a musical minefield; there is danger at every turn. And there can be no passengers in a work such as this. Total concentration is essential to avoid this musical enterprise from finishing on the rocks.


A one-hundred-strong WAYO (with more than fifty of its players aged 19 years or more) came through this protracted ordeal with banners flying high.


Performances like this don’t just happen. There would have been a gruelling preparation for this performance, with the WAYO musicians fronting up to rehearsals that ran from 10am to 4pm from the Monday to the Friday preceding the performance as well as during Saturday morning at the Concert Hall. There would also have had to be intensive preliminary study of the score and dedicated supervision by tutors to come up with a result as meaningful as this.


All this investment of time and skill paid handsome musical dividends.


Tze Law Chan presided over events, taking his young charges through a reading that most effectively evoked the powerfully atavistic nature of Stravinsky’s barrier-breaking score. Incidentally, at its first performance in Paris, the work (to choreography by Nijinsky) so infuriated the audience that the gendarmes had to be called to cope with the riot and fistfights that broke out in the theatre. Stravinsky was bundled into a hansom cab to distance himself from members of the audience who might have wanted to assault him – or worse.


There was also a performance of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto with Thomas Hecht as soloist. Apart from trivialising the keyboard flourishes in the opening moments of this most loved of piano concertos, the presentation was most impressive. Here was a reading that took up an interpretative position at the emotional epicentre of the concerto. Not the least of the pleasures of this account was the extraordinary range of tone colours that Hecht brought to his performance, so bringing freshness to familiar notes.


Hecht is blessed with near-infallible fingers; the slowly ascending trills in the slow movement were faultlessly spun. Throughout, wonderfully flexible wrists and an unflagging pace added to the overall impact of the performance. It was a tour de force to which the WAYO players responded with a consistently meaningful accompaniment.