Tag Archives: Music Critic

La Sonnambula (Bellini)



W.A.Opera Company



His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


One of the rewards of working as a music critic over decades is, after identifying and encouraging promising young talent, listening and watching (and hoping, because there is a high dropout rate) as they mature into confident adult musicians. This is very much the case insofar as Rachelle Durkin and Aldo di Toro are concerned.


Both demonstrated very significant potential as students. I recall a young Durkin in a  production of The Magic Flute – and di Toro in a wondrously fine account of a Schumann song cycle. How splendidly they have now come to the fore.


As the romantic leads in La Sonnambula, each is enormously effective in solo arias –  and in duo, their voices blend beautifully.


As the eponymous heroine, Durkin is vocally excellent and dramatically convincing. She has the ability to project her voice effortlessly to the furthest corners of the house;  it is a pure and perfectly pitched stream of sound. And di Toro, as the ardent swain Elvino, who is heartbroken when it seems as if Amina has been unfaithful, was beyond reproach in vocal terms (he seems incapable of an ugly sound). Vocally and histrionically, they are a perfect match.


Other casting was shrewd and effective. In a smaller but pivotal role, Andrew Collis as Count Rodolfo (into whose bedroom Amina innocently wanders in her sleep, triggering a blizzard of malevolent gossip) was well cast. Zoe Kikiros brought an altogether appropriate shrewishness to the role of Lisa, at one time engaged to Elvino.  And David Woodward was a delight as the engagingly dotty, fusspot notary.

Choristers were in fine fettle.


Sleepwalking lies at the heart of Bellini’s masterpiece. It is a crucial factor; too many productions have foundered on this point by having the heroine appear like some eerie, ashen-faced phantom from another dimension with weird lighting and silly make-up. How much more realistic and meaningful was this; it had the stamp of truth. It was this and a voice in fine form – as well as di Toro at his best – that made this production so meaningful.


It was an inspiration on the part of costume designer Richard Roberts to clothe the chorus in grey. It perfectly complemented the austerely Calvinist environment of the Switzerland in which the opera is set. All this struck a perfect note (no pun intended) as did Roberts’ set designs which were most effective in establishing, enhancing and maintaining mood.  


Richard Mills was a reassuring presence in the pit as he took the W.A.Symphony Orchestra through its paces.






Photography by James Rogers


Concentration Camp Music..


Works by Viktor Ullmann, Robert Lannoy, Marius Flothuis and Jozef Kropinski



Francesco Lotoro (piano) and friends



KZMUSIK CD8  232525



TPT: 63’27”



reviewed by Neville Cohn


 Marius Flothuis                                                                Viktor Ullmann

Although the greater part by far of this compact disc series is devoted to music written by composers who perished while incarcerated in nazi concentration camps, a number of musicians survived the camps and went on to productive musical lives.


One of these is Marius Flothuis who, initially a music critic, was also assistant artistic director of Amsterdam’s famous Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1942 when he was deported to Amersfoort before being transported to the notorious Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Flothuis died in 2001 in Amsterdam.


He wrote a number of works while in the camps, such as his piano duets opus 21 and a sonata for solo violin. But it is his Sonata da camera for flute and piano that provides some of the most beguiling listening with flautist Pasquale Rinaldi and Lotoro (piano) in excellent fettle throughout. I particularly liked the beautifully expressive stream of mellow flute tone in the opening cadenza – and the plaintive quality of the second movement is finely evoked by both players. The brilliance of the concluding rondo is a fine foil for the melancholy Lamento which precedes it.


Another survivor was Robert Lannoy who died as recently as 1979 in Lille. Conscripted into the French army, he became a POW in Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine and Stalag  XVIIB in Austria. He made numerous escape attempts but they were all foiled. After the war, he produced a large body of work in his native France. Lannoy’s Berceuse comes across in rather too heavy-footed a way for a lullaby, an impression reinforced by a surfeit of tremolo from the piano.


Berlin-born Josef Kropinski survived Buchenwald and lived on until 1970. He was a prolific composer. Pianist Francesco Lotoro, who works tirelessly to place on disc as much music as possible which was written in confinement, has painstakingly reconstructed fragments of 14 short piano pieces which include three each of mazurkas and tangos. The pieces are most musically played but melodically, harmonically and style-wise they are unremarkable, formulaic and predictable and have little intrinsic worth.  But, as with all music in this series, these keyboard miniatures cry out for recognition as music that came into being in uniquely terrible and terrifying circumstances.


Kropinski, incidentally, was astonishingly prolific; his output includes more than 300 songs as well as string quartets and much else for piano solo.


Lotoro brings a great deal of energy to a piano version of the overture to Ullmann’s opera Don Quixote Dances the Fandango. The orchestral score is lost, so we have to be content with a piano reduction that survived the camps.  There is a great deal of rather noisy tremolo in this intensely dramatic piece. There’s also a tantalisingly brief fragment from a projected two-act opera about Joan of Arc – and a dozen lieder which make up Der Mensch und sein Tag. Angelo de Leonardis and Lotoro take us into a world of deep emotion here but for those who are not German-speaking, a translation of the text into English would have been most helpful. Certainly, it would have made the listening experience that much more meaningful.

Obituary Derek Moore Morgan






Derek Moore Morgan

born: April 1915

died: December 2007    


Sea water may have coursed through his veins but teaching was in his genes. For many years music critic for The West Australian, Derek Moore Morgan came from a large Northern Irish family steeped in the educational tradition.


An only child, he was born in Forrest  Hall, a village near Newcastle-on-Tyne. His father had a prep school in the village and his grandfather, Canon William Moore Morgan, was headmaster of Armagh Royal School.


Early showing a gift for music, the young pianist played at local festivals and later  for the northern BBC, as well as winning diplomas from London College of Music in his mid-teens. He graduated B Mus from King’s College, Durham University in 1936. By 1939, he had also earned B Mus and doctoral degrees (for which he composed a symphony) at Trinity College, Dublin.


Derek seemed destined to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. But there was a prior calling. When World War II broke out, Derry joined the British Merchant Navy as a radio officer sailing with Atlantic convoys early in the war and later serving on vessels taking coals, not to but from, Newcastle down England’s east coast to London, a dangerous journey with German E-boats constantly on the prowl for prey.


This seagoing trait is evident in the generation following Derry. A son, Patrick, joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet when he was 17 – and daughter Cynthia became a WRNS 3rd officer. She was born during an air raid in 1944 to Derry’s first wife Nancy Smith who died young of TB in 1947.


After the war, Derry was appointed Director of School Music at Dorking Grammar School and taught there with distinction for 29 years.  


By many accounts, Doc (as he was affectionately known to his students), was an inspiring, dynamic teacher. His future wife , novelist and short story writer Barbara Yates Rothwell (who was also to serve as music critic on The West Australian) was at the time a sixth former and choir accompanist, thus able to see his teaching method close up.  She recalled that “no one who sat through his classes would ever forget the sight of Doc standing at the piano, banging out the orchestral parts of some great classic work – Handel’s Messiah and Coronation Anthems, perhaps, or Mozart’s Requiem – bellowing out the bass part in a raucous, slightly off-key voice. Whether his style of teaching was planned or whether it simply emerged from his volatile, vibrant personality is difficult to say.” And  annual Christmas carol services in the local parish church were routinely packed to the doors.

In 1967, however, the cumulative strain of years of shouldering the responsibilities of running Dorking Grammar’s music department on his own and, perhaps, residual stress of war service brought on a serious breakdown.


Derry returned to work after convalescing for four months – but it wasn’t the same although there was still the old spirit that had so splendidly inspired his student.


Change was on the cards. And when Barbara suggested immigrating to Australia – a daughter had settled in Australia some time before – his response was “Why not?”. They came to Perth in 1974. Derry never returned to the UK.


Barbara recalls how, fifty and more years on, letters still arrive at Christmas from grateful students mentioning the joy experienced at those long-ago choral sessions.


Those many years teaching in the UK were to prove invaluable in Derry’s work for the Australian Music Examinations Board in Perth where his genial, avuncular manner did much to put nervous candidates at their ease.


Although music was his main game, Derry was handy with wood, the evidence of that apparent in the bookshelves he installed in the family home in Yanchep. He’d also occasionally play a round of tennis when he could find an opponent


Derry never learned to drive a car and it was Barbara who, in the interests of road safety (as she put it, tongue in cheek), would ferry Derry to and from their Yanchep home. Barbara says “Derry began learning to drive in his 40s. He could do the steering part perfectly well but he thought the road belonged to him so I begged him NOT to drive”. In so doing, she took on a monumental task ferrying Derry to and from concert venues in and near the CBD; it was a 100 kilometre round trip, done countless times over the years.


Derry is survived by Barbara, children Cynthia, Patrick, Helen, Keith., Alison and Fiona and grandchildren.


At the funeral service, there were recordings, made during years at Dorking Grammar, of Derek conducting extracts from Brahms’ A German Requiem and his own Christmas carol Behold a simple, tender Babe, described by emeritus professor David Tunley as “hauntingly beautiful” and the many reviews he wrote for The West Australian as “invariably informed by fine musicianship“ .


Neville Cohn

The Magic Touch by Wallace Tate

The Magic Touch and DVD at AUS$67 – Digital Download

The Piano Magic Touch

reviewed by Neville Cohn

I must declare an interest: I have known the author Wallace Tate for twenty years – and Lionel Bowman has known me since my childhood. As a music critic in Cape Town, I often reviewed associate professor Bowman's recitals and concerto performances. And at the South African Broadcasting Corporation studios in Cape Town, I was music producer for many of Bowman's recitals being recorded for later transmission. This took place a good many years ago. Some time after settling in Perth, Australia in the early 1980s, I learned that Wallace Tate was working on a book about Bowman's idiosyncratic piano-teaching method. My initial reaction was one of scepticism. In many years of listening to, and writing about, music, I had come across many books relating to piano playing, most claiming foolproof solutions to technical problems in prose that ranged from the absurdly superficial to the impenetrable. As well, I had never encountered anyone who claimed a significant improvement in command of the keyboard as a result of resorting to any of these primers. Was Tate's book to be added to this dreary collection? I am happy to report that my reservations were groundless. To my astonishment – and gratification – I discovered as I read slowly and carefully through this remarkable tome, most of it while at the keyboard, that Tate had achieved what I had considered near-impossible: a compendium of useful, practical advice on solving a range of technical problems. Throughout, the language used is straightforward and unambiguous. In fact, the lucidity and cogency of the text puts Tate's work in a special category of excellence. It is the end-product of a years'- long study of Bowman's method. Its clarity and logic are as rare as they are significant. Methods – and books such as this – don't just fall from the sky. For Bowman, the route to keyboard control was no musical equivalent of some instantaneous Pauline conversion, some magical revelation from on high. Hardly. Bowman has been frank about the genesis and development of the teaching method that Tate has so admirably captured in print. Experiencing increasing physical discomfort at the keyboard – and finding nothing in his background that offered meaningful solutions to his dilemma – and needing to externalise his system for the benefit of his many students with their manifold problems, Bowman, through trial and error over years, gradually evolved a way of approaching the piano that resolved many of his own physical difficulties at the keyboard. These solutions brought him acclaim as an artist and gratitude and relief from innumerable students whose playing had been bedevilled by muscle tension and physical and emotional pain. It is Tate's great achievement that he recognised the significance of Bowman's approach to the piano (and that it might disappear with Bowman's retirement from teaching) – and captured its essence in this book. Let it be said clearly, though, that the method is no instant, all-embracing, panacea for success at the piano; such a utopian solution does not exist. Rather, in the most approachable of terms, it enables the serious teacher, student and professional to set about solving a range of otherwise intractable technical problems in a meaningful way. There is, incidentally, a video that comes with the book which provides a handy visual dimension to Tate's text. For copies of The Magic Touch and DVD digital download, head over to The Magic Touch Website.



© October 2003