Tag Archives: Mozart

The Classic 100

Australia’s 100 favourite symphonies

ABC Classics 480 2832/ 480 2837  8 CDs

reviewed by Neville Cohn

480 2842 Symphony 100 Box 3D

It was an event unique in the music history of Australia: a countrywide vote for the nation’s favourite 100 symphonies, an event hosted by The Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

This was not the first time that the ABC  – and the record label ABC Classics – had instituted an initiative along these lines – but not in relation to symphonies.

In earlier years, there had been nationwide voting to establish Australia’s tastes in chamber music as well as the piano repertoire, favourite Mozart moments and many other music genres along these lines.

This symphonic countdown was a particularly remarkable experience. After voting had closed, the ABC began the mammoth task of broadcasting each of the 100 symphonies in their entirety, starting with the symphony at number 100 ( by co-incidence, it was Haydn’s Symphony No 100).

It was a fascinating experience, not only listening to the works in their order of popularity but also to messages  – reactions, opinions, congratulations, reservations – from those many enthusiasts across Australia who phoned in to the ABC to share their views on the whole enterprise.

Has any other radio station anywhere provided such a mammoth listening experience?

The collection on the ABC Classics label – on eight compact discs – contains the ten symphonies voted as most popular in their entirety with a number of the remaining 90 symphonies each represented by a single movement. It’s not an ideal arrangement and

I’m certain that the compilers would have wanted all 100 symphonies to have been available in toto. But I imagine that the full collection would have been so expensive as to be beyond the pocket of many, if not most.

One would have to wonder how some of these works got onto the list – and how many votes were cast in total? Without this crucial component, one can only speculate.

Were the numbers so small as to be an embarrassment? I rather doubt that – but one cannot be sure.

How many voted for Ross Edwards’ Symphony? How many votes were cast in, say, New South Wales or the Northern Territory – or Christmas Island?

How many voters plumped for, say, Tchaikowsky or Sibelius? How did Brahms fare in Tasmania, say, or Haydn in Norfolk Island – or Messiaen in W.A.?

It seems to me that if such an ambitious enquiry into Australia’s symphonic tastes was undertaken, why not get the figures out there? And if whatever reason, voting numbers are to be suppressed, then why not provide percentage figures in relation to the total vote count which would certainly be of great interest.

Intriguingly, how many votes were cast in favour of symphonies that didn’t make the list at all? Which were they? How close did they come to inclusion?

The answer could well be revelatory – or not. Without these figures, one is left to surmise.

How many would have voted for Australia’s No 1 symphony – Dvorak’s New World, a worthy winner, although possibly a surprise to those who might have felt that  Beethoven’s Ninth or Tchaikovsky’s Sixth would be first over the line?

Audience tastes, of course, vary over time and place. Consider these results from a poll taken in 1938 by New York radio station WQXR. It makes fascinating reading:

Beethoven’s Fifth came out on top with 23.9% of the votes, Beethoven’s Seventh came second with 18.3% and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth came third with 16.5%.  Beethoven’s Ninth, Third and Sixth were respectively fourth, sixth and twelfth.

At the time, it was suggested by some commentators that it was only a matter of time

before the Seventh outstripped the Fifth. Time has shown that it didn’t happen. It  probably never will.

(I wasn’t able to obtain figures for other composers: placings for Dvorak, Mozart, Haydn and Mahler which would have made interesting reading.)

If, for whatever reason, the ABC Classics compilers didn’t want to reveal the voting numbers, it would surely have been a straightforward enough task to disclose the percentage voting figures as was the case with the New York radio station.

Although some of the recordings of the Top Ten works are of leading overseas orchestras, a very considerable number of the tracks on these eight CDs are by Australian orchestras, although one would wonder why the W.A.Symphony Orchestra is represented by only one track. The WASO’s form has come along impressively in recent years and it’s a shame it doesn’t have more representation on compact disc.

Apart from the top ten in toto, single-movement excerpts from 19 other symphonies round out the eight CDs of the set – ten hours listening time.

Andrew Eikner (piano)

Hale Auditorium


reviewed by Neville Cohn


In his recital on Wednesday, visiting American pianist Edward Eikner paid tribute to Mozart in the first half of his program – and offered an all-Spanish second half.

It was a recital of sometimes disconcertingly varying standards with moments of insight cheek by jowl with episodes that left a good deal to be desired.

Mozart’s much-loved Sonata in A, K331 was a case in point. The famous rondo alla turca was a splendid offering with agile fingerwork maintaining a blistering pace, the jangling, faux-Turkish Jamissary flavour of the writing altogether convincing. But in the concluding variation of the first movement, tone sounded hard and strident. In the minuet, the playing was sadly below par with clattering clusters of wrong notes and little evidence of the elegant stateliness that lies at the heart of the writing. And in the exquisite slow movement from K330, one listened in vain for a revelation of its interior mood of grave dignity.

The first six of Granadas’ Spanish Dances, some reservations aside, provided very much more satisfying listening, especially Rondalla Aragonesa with its pleasing tonal colourings and tempo nuances which, no pun intended, struck exactly the right note. No 3 in D, too, was presented with bracing attack and follow-through. Villanesca was altogether persuasive. With its repeated figurations, there is always the risk of tedium setting in – but in Eikner’s hands, interest was maintained throughout in this buoyant, clear-toned offering.

But tone tended to edginess in the outer sections of Oriental – and in Andaluza, that most famous of the collection of dances, notes cried out for reflective, lyrical treatment. Certainly, the direction that the pianist play dolce in both pieces was quite overlooked as was the need to play cantabile in the poco andante section of the first of the set. Falla’s celebrated Fire Dance was despatched in noisily energetic fashion.

Copyright 2006 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



Reviewed by Stuart Hille

Weidenfeld & Nicolson ­ ‘Lives’ series

RRP: $29.95


For the Mozart dilettante, the seriously curious or even the knowledgeable academic, this book by Peter Gay has a considerable amount to offer. Its approach is one of historical analysis and not of musical resolution. One suspects that the author avoided the latter for several reasons.

Foremost of these, is that the nature of this series of books is one of narrative with well researched detail, in a style that is flowing and enjoyably readable. This particular book is around the length of a small novel and for those who have a reasonable amount of information, be it from study, concerts, discs, programme notes or wherever, it reads as if it was a novel.

Apart from the fact that every detail given in the book is entirely accurate and extrapolations or interpretations well considered and worthy of careful attention, the life of Mozart with all its colour, dramas, intrigues and tragedy could easily be read as an engrossing account of some fictitious eighteenth century genius.

While we can imbibe the details of this musical sorcerer – producing three of the greatest symphonic works within the space of six weeks, writing overtures to operas on the eve of the first performance, committing works to memory upon one hearing and so many other feats, let alone writing some of the finest music of the entire repertoire – we cannot fully rationalise such extraordinary ability. Even given the fact that there are many hyperboles and mild fabrications in the earliest biographies, nearly all the information we have is authentic, even when our cogent minds would deem it to be the stuff of fantasy

Peter Gay’s authoritative account certainly dispels any such whimsy. The careful bioliographical annotations show thorough research and this information is used with skill and clarity in providing a convincing, albeit particular, historical interpretation. But this is not to suggest it does not contain some minor flaws.

These certainly do not apply to the factual information, which is impeccable, but more to the writing style and the lack of accent on Mozart’s mother (her subconscious influence on her astonishing son was quite profound).

Generally, the book flows beautifully, but there are occasional weaknesses – the over-abundance of superlatives in the first chapter, for example, not only leaves one wondering how much more resourcefulness or invention the author can maintain but also creates a diffident feeling from the outset as to the objectivity of the study.

Fortunately, as the book progresses, the colourful acclamations recede as the narrative and analysis become foremost. After all, we all know of the intellectual power, structural finesse and beauty of Mozart’s writing, whereas intelligent and insightful readings of his life are far less common than the Everest of glowing adjectives used to describe his music.

It is the penetrating conclusions, not the eulogising, that one takes from this book.

One of the crysallisations (there are far too many to detail in a short critique) that was especially interesting was an observation of the composer’s growing depression towards the end of his life. His paranoia has been fairly well established: Constanze having an affair with Sussmayer, one of his two surviving children being illegitimate, his general distrust of those around him – but it never occurred to this reviewer that Mozart suffered from bouts of true clinical depression.

Yet, the creativity never left him. Maybe this was a defence or perhaps an integration of opposites but whatever the case, Mozart continued to compose at his normal pace – though perhaps somewhat more frenetically – right up to the last couple of weeks of his life.

Depression can of course exacerbate any disease. However, if the ultimate cause of Mozart’s death was as a result of earlier experiences and recurrent turns of rheumatic fever, as the author states, then the cardiac and renal damage would have been beyond repair. General poor health, a depressive and paranoic state of mind and ritualistic phlebotomies would only have made the descent more rapid.

A useful tip for readers of this study and any other fine Mozart biographies is to read them in conjunction with the letters. These can be obtained through almost any public library.

Requiem (Mozart)

Collegium Musicum

St Jospeh’s Church, Subiaco

reviewed by Neville Cohn

It says much for the persuasiveness of the singing of Collegium Musicum and accompanying orchestra that, for the duration of Mozart’s setting of the Requiem Mass for the Dead, one forgot how comfortlessly hard and unyielding the pews of St Joseph’s Church, Subiaco are.

Under the unflappable guidance of Margaret Pride, the Requiem unfolded in the most powerfully communicative of ways. In the opening Requiem aeternam, Dr Pride set an unusually slow pace which allowed this achingly poignant music to register most powerfully on the consciousness. Certainly, maintaining a sense of momentum at very slow speed was a remarkable feat of musicianship on the part of all concerned. And the skill with which the fugal writing of the Kyrie was essayed approached the magnificent.

Here, and throughout, the accompanying instrumental ensemble had the very real advantage of leadership from Paul Wright. Its account of the Dies Irae was electrifying in its intensity, to which the choir responded as if galvanised.

There were some fleeting problems with vocal intonation in parts of Tuba mirum.

The opening of the Sanctus was the sonic equivalent of a blaze of light but Hosanna in the Benedictus needed more emphatic treatment.

Uniformity of tonal sheen from the strings made the concluding pages of the work, in particular, all the more satisfying to hear. Throughout, Catherine Cahill and Ashley Smith brought a touch of distinction to the basset horn parts.

As ever, St Joseph’s first-rate acoustics allowed both the Requiem and Bach’s Christ lag in Todesbanden BWV4 to be heard to best advantage.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn