Tag Archives: Nth Degree



 Roger Benedict (viola), Ben Jacks (horn), Timothy Young (piano)

music by Charles Koechlin and Joseph Jongen

TPT: 68’36”

MELBA CD 301126

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Is there a more treacherous instrument in the string family than the viola? How intractable it can be to those many who endeavour to play it in tune but succeed only fitfully. But when Roger Benedict tucks it under his chin, how perfectly behaved it is. Here indeed is a viola tamed – and it does his master’s bidding to the most beguiling of ends in a way that most other violists would give their eye teeth to emulate. It is impossible to overstate the merit of this recorded recital; it brims to overflowing with good things, not least the stream of often exquisitely mellow tone which Benedict conjures from the instrument.


Here’s a fascinating compilation, well off the beaten track – and yet another instance of Melba’s adventurous forays into the seldom heard, even less seldom recorded.


Charles Koechlin’s Sonata for viola and piano (which years later would be followed by sonatas for cello and for horn) is a major opus to which both Benedict and Young bring a wealth of experience and insight.


Koechlin’s sonata is unlikely ever to reach the top ten of viola favourites. There is little about it which could be thought of as either memorably catchy or of Olympian profundity. But it is nonetheless a valuable addition to the sadly small repertoire of music for the instrument – and it is played with such beauty of tone and insights of such intense musicality that it holds the attention from first note to last. Certainly, the dark and sombre nature of the opening adagio is wonderfully evoked – as is the wild dance that is the essence of the scherzo. And the calm, thoughtful approach to the extended soliloquy which takes up much of the third movement is musical to the nth degree.


I particularly liked Koechlim’s Quatre Petites Pieces in which Benedict and Young are joined by Ben Jacks whose horn playing here is the stuff of aural delight, enchanting  moments that would surely charm the grumpiest bird from a twig. The musical chemistry of the trio is constantly apparent here, not least in the opening andante in which a songlike viola and Jacks at his winning best make magic. I particularly admired the skilled and most effective internal tonal balance. Young is everywhere convincing, not least in finely stated, rippling figurations in the movement marked tres modere.


Benedict and Young come up trumps, too, in four engaging pieces by Belgian composer Joseph Jongen. These, too, are as polished in presentation as the Koechlin works.

Just Classics 2 The Gold Collection

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Sara Macliver (soprano)

Fiona Campbell (mezzo soprano)

Benjamin Northey (conductor)

476 3341 Just Classics Gold

ABC Classics 476 3341

TPT: 61’58”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

I can’t recall hearing a finer version of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man than on this compact disc. Bass drum and tam tam are used to thrilling effect; it’s a perfect overture to the compilation.

Much of the offering consists of much loved classics that are heard time and again on radio or in live performance – but there is not a hint here of familiarity breeding indifference. On the contrary, there is the most appealing freshness to the playing, even in so hackneyed a piece as the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And in Dvorak’s Furiant No 8, the WASO brass section is very much on its collective toes.

Many of those listening to Respighi’s Bergamasca will recognise it instantly as the theme music for Marian Arnold’s much loved, long running Listeners’ Requests on ABC Classic FM.

Fiona Campbell is in exceptional voice in Mahler’s Ging heut’ Morgen. Producing an immaculate stream of fine mellow vocal tone, Campbell makes magic of this much loved lied. And soprano Sara Macliver is no less persuasive in Song of the Pistachio Harvesters from Ravel’s Five Greek Songs, informed as it is by a most appropriate sense of languor.

Also on disc is Saint Saens’ faux-Oriental Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah; woodwinds are very much on their toes here as in Dance of  the Little Swans from Tchaikowsky’s Swan Lake.

Take a bow, WASO! Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain is given first rate treatment with Benjamin Northey presiding over events to frankly thrilling effect as the score’s satanic revelry is suggested to the nth degree. And the striding motif from the Montagues and Capulets episode from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet fairly sizzles with intensity.

The West Australian Symphony orchestra does not frequently feature on ABC Classics label so this recording is particularly welcome. Certainly, recording engineers Karl Akers and Gavin Fernie have ensured the WASO is heard to very best advantage here; recorded sound is uniformly excellent.

Parade (Alfred Uhry/Jason Robert Brown)




West Australian Academy of Performing Arts Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn




photo credit Jon Green c 2009 WAAPA



In the minds of most people, lynching, with all its connotations of hideous violence, is inextricably and exclusively associated with the murder of African Americans by white supremacists in the USA.


Parade, however, focuses on a victim who was abducted and hanged by anti-Semitic vigilantes in 1915 in the southern state of Georgia.


The story is, briefly, this: a girl – Mary Phagan – who works in a pencil factory managed by Leo Frank, is found murdered on the premises. The completely innocent Frank is charged with her murder and is found guilty and sentenced to death. Eventually, the governor of Georgia commutes the sentence to life imprisonment.


Not long afterwards, while at a prison farm, Frank is abducted and lynched. None of the lynching party, which incredibly, included lawyers, a court prosecutor and the son of a senator, was ever held accountable. Decades after this miscarriage of justice, Frank was posthumously pardoned in the 1980s.


I had wondered whether so dark and tragic a story was suitable for treatment as a music theatre piece. But any reservations I might have had about this evaporated only moments into the piece. By even the most severe of critical standards, this production of Parade was riveting stuff. Near-perfectly paced, its two-hour-long duration flew by in a production worthy of high praise.


In this multi-faceted offering, the youthful players in a large cast came up trumps again and again. The pivotal role of Leo Frank, who was 31 years old when he met his terrible death, was played as if to the manner born by Brendan Hawke, who captured the character’s stoic, rather prissy and edgy personality nuances to the nth degree. And Laura Page as Lucille was no less convincing as the wife who refuses to cut and run but stands loyally by her man. Lucille, incidentally, was scion of a prominent Jewish family which decades earlier had founded the first synagogue in Atlanta.


Whether coincidentally or by design, Hawke and Page are strikingly similar in looks to the characters they play.


Rather oddly, the role of Frank’s do-nothing lawyer Luther Rosser was played, very competently, by a woman Naomi Livingston. But what was the point, if any, being made?


Nearly all the large cast sang multiple roles.


It says much for the skill which Uhry and Brown brought to their creation of Parade that despite the trappings usually associated with the genre, the dancing and singing in no way robs the story of its tragic darkness.  Bobbing, weaving and twirling, the dancers brought Bernie Bernard’s choreography to exciting, pulsing life. Drew Weston, as reporter Britt Craig, was a particularly impressive presence.


David King presided splendidly over events, conducting a big instrumental ensemble positioned at the rear of the stage. Throughout, singing was of high standard as were Tony Gordon’s lighting and Jess Tran’s imaginative set designs. Cale Watts’ costumes did much to establish a sense of era. Crispin Taylor’s directorial touch was everywhere evident not least in consistently meaningful deployment of an unusually large cast.