Tag Archives: Recitals

Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano)

Sonatas Nos 32 in G minor, 31 in A flat and 33 in C minor

TPT: 66’22”

Tall Poppies TPT: 66’22”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


To listen to Geoffrey Lancaster playing Haydn on the fortepiano is to be drawn ineluctably into the sound and mood world of the composer. And that was very much the case at a series of recitals that Lancaster gave in Perth recently.


 Before listening to the first of a projected series of compact disc recordings devoted to Haydn’s complete keyboard sonatas, I wondered to what extent that sense of spontaneity that made his live recitals so extraordinarily satisfying would be captured on disc. Would the freshness and vitality transfer successfully to recordings?


Any concerns I might have had on this point evaporated within moments. There is a wonderful sense of spontaneity here – and it is abundantly in evidence. Indeed, the playing on this CD is so ‘alive’ that listening to it provides that additional frisson one associates primarily with  experiencing a profound musical interpretation in the flesh, as it were.


Over the years, I have lost count of the times I’ve heard Lancaster in recital. Hopefully, this recording and those to follow will allow listeners living far from the main routes of the international concert circuit to experience the magic of Lancaster’s interpretative insights.


Just as in his recent recitals in Perth, each of the sonatas here is prefaced by a short prelude which, Lancaster explained to the audience, was the common practice in recital in Haydn’s day.


Lancaster provides his own prelude to the Sonata No 32 in G minor but the other two sonatas – Sonata No 31 and Sonata No33 – are prefaced by preludes composed by Muzio Clementi.


As a whole, this recording is pure delight. Make a point of adding it to your CD collection; it will enrich your music life.



Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano)



Eileen Joyce Studio, UWA

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Some time ago, during a TV interview, famed mezzo Cecilia Bartoli was asked whether she thought she had been touched by the finger of God. Modestly, she said she doubted it  –  but, tongue in cheek – she conceded that the Lord might possibly have waved ‘hullo’ from a distance.


After listening to Geoffrey Lancaster’s artistry in this series of Haydn  recitals, I’d like to think that God Almighty would not only have waved to him but invited him in for afternoon tea.


Perhaps once in a generation, sometimes even less frequently, there’s an opportunity to hear Haydn’s complete keyboard sonatas. Perth concertgoers were offered this rare opportunity in July.


Geoffrey Lancaster is one of the very few fortepianists anywhere in the world to have taken on this immense challenge. And in these recitals, it was at once apparent that he has in abundance those crucial attributes essential to embark on so vast a musical enterprise: fearless, superbly educated fingers, an intellect of highest order, rare expressive insights – and the staying power of a primed athlete.


Not the least of the many delights of the sonatas (more than fifty) was Lancaster’s linking commentary deriving from a lifetime’s consideration of these wonderful but often neglected  keyboard gems. Lancaster’s knowledge of the circumstances surrounding each of these gems is encyclopaedic.


As well, in the style of Haydn’s day, the performance of each sonata was prefaced by a brief prelude by the performer: an extemporaneous flourish here, a little series of rapid arabesques there, some scales up and down the keyboard – and then the magic of Haydn interpreted by a keyboard master at the height of his powers.


Rapid passagework that called strings of perfectly matched pearls to mind – and the extraordinary richness of Lancaster’s ornamentation of the music – were two only of the many factors he employed to expound Haydn’s idiosyncratic musical argument in the most persuasive and satisfying ways.  


I noticed a few members of the audience closely following Lancaster’s performances in the printed score and scribbling comments in the margins, doubtless interpretative insights of a valuable sort to pass on to pupils.


It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this series. The chances of encountering these works here again soon as a cycle, are very, very small. In over fifty years of busy concertgoing, this has been the first opportunity I’ve had to listen to many of these extraordinary works in a single series.


Currently, Lancaster is recording the Haydn cycle of sonatas for the Tall Poppies label. 




Eileen Joyce 1908 – 1991




A Centenary Tribute


by Neville Cohn



Her dirt poor parents in Boulder were so short of money, that her clothes were made from old flour sacks – and her  shoes were hand-me-downs two sizes too big for her. It’s almost certain that these slights and embarrassments made the little girl long to be famous and rich. And that is what happened to Eileen Joyce – or little Ellie as she was known in Boulder where her parents settled not long after Ellie was born in Tasmania in 1908.


One hundred years on, there will be many a commemorative recital in her honour around the world. So, too, in Perth which loomed large in Joyce’s affections, so much so that towards the end of her life, she donated significant monies for the building of the Eileen Joyce Studio on UWA campus in memory of her parents.


During the 1940s and into the 1950s, Eileen Joyce was arguably the second most famous of living Australians, second only to Don Bradman – and she earned buckets of money in the process.


She was glamorous, she was feted wherever she went – and the clothes she wore were almost as a big a talking point as her performances. Eileen Joyce would say that, in her mind, certain colours suited certain composers: lilac for Liszt, yellow for Schumann, blue for Grieg, red for Tchaikowsky and so on. And she would frequently give recitals in which she would wear a different concert gown for each work on the program, a habit that would surely have been sweet compensation after her poverty-stricken youth. And these were not gowns made by some anonymous suburban dressmaker. On the contrary, they sported the labels of some of the priciest couturiers in the world, such as Worth and Norman Hartnell, the Queens’ dress designer.


For years, she was very frequently written about in women’s magazines which informed their avid readers that even Joyce’s hairstyles were dictated by the music she played: hair piled high for Beethoven, drawn back tight for Mozart and let down for Debussy!


Some critics blasted her for these “tasteless distractions”, “prostitution of her art” and “cheap tricks”. Eileen laughed all the way to the bank.


As a child, Ellie liked to play the harmonica but when an aunt moved in with the family, she brought an item of furniture that would change Ellie’s life forever – a battered old upright piano to which the little girl took like the proverbial duck to water.


Ellie was taught the piano at the convent school she attended in Boulder. Enter one Charles Schilsky who would by now be totally forgotten if not for being the first senior musician to spot Ellie’s extraordinary potential and do something about it. Schilsky had come to Boulder as an examiner for Trinity College of Music, London.


After hearing young Ellie, he approached the local priest and told him the little girl had a giant talent and needed top tuition. The Catholic church came to Ellie’s musical rescue. Monies were raised in improbable ways. Hats were passed around in Boulder taverns – and more than a few of the winnings from games of two-up found their way to the growing fund. Ellie went to Perth as a boarder at Loreto Convent where Sister John gave Ellie the music guidance she needed.


Enter Charles Schilsky yet again. Invited back to Perth to adjudicate at an eisteddfod, he immediately recognised that Ellie was moving forward by leaps and bounds, put in a good word or two and before long young Eileen was on her way to Europe for lessons in Leipzig, Germany from Robert Teichmuller. Here, too, she flourished, absorbing her teacher’s wise counsel like blotting paper. Then she went to England. Sir Henry Wood, founder of the famous London Proms, conducted her debut concerto performance; it was a huge success. Eileen Joyce was on her way to justifying Percy Grainger’s comment that “she was the most transcendentally gifted pianist I have ever encountered.”


Her big break came in London. She’d decided to make a piano recording privately which she intended to use as a sort of musical calling card when looking for concert opportunities. But when she returned to the studio to pay for the recording she had made days earlier, she was told, to her pleasant surprise, that her playing was so impressive that, not only did she not have to pay for the recording, she was instead offered a contract to make further recordings on the Parlophone label – and that was the beginning of a career during which many of her records became best sellers, making a fortune for both the recording company and Eileen.


This was also about the time that Eileen, a compulsive liar for most of her life, began manufacturing fanciful fictions about her life and career – and these fabrications became increasingly complicated until, later in life, she had difficulty herself in remembering what was true and what was not. Early on, she claimed to have been born in 1912 – but then, many movie actresses also hid their year of birth.


In 1937, Eileen married stockbroker Douglas Barratt by whom she fell pregnant. It was not a happy union – and their son John was born sixteen hours after Britain declared war on Germany. Not long after, Douglas was killed on active service.


Later, Joyce met  Christopher Mann – and although presenting themselves as a married couple, there are still doubts whether they were legally married or not: another one of Joyce’s lies?


Whatever the state of their union, Mann proved a brilliant agent; his connections and shrewd business acumen transformed Eileen into a superstar and earned them a fortune. Her son, though, was to have a traumatic youth and adolescence at Eileen’s and Christopher’s hands. He was packed off to boarding school at the earliest possible moment. And Mann’s attitude towards the little boy would make David Copperfield’s stepfather seem a paragon of enlightenment and compassion by comparison.


For the rest of his life, Mann treated John appallingly, at best treating him like some barely tolerated house guest and insisting on the most detailed accounting, literally to the very penny, of the parsimonious allowance he so grudgingly gave the child who was more often than not dumped like some unwanted parcel at boarding school. To her eternal discredit, Eileen never intervened, passively allowing Mann to wreck John’s childhood and adolescence. This indifference to her only child became ever more obvious towards the end of life when Eileen lavished far more affection on her dogs than her only child.


When she died, she left money for guide dogs for the blind. Would that she had been equally caring about her son John to whom she left nothing – nothing! – so that, to acquire some dearly loved childhood artefacts, he had to engage an agent to purchase these at an auction sale of his mother’s possessions. But Joyce did leave money to John’s young son, to be held in trust until he turned 25 years old. John did not attend his mother’s funeral.


Mean and neglectful she may have been towards her son but in other ways Joyce was generous with her time and abilities. She rarely turned down an appeal to play to raise funds for this or that charity. And in wartime England she worked unceasingly, as did, say, Yehudi Menuhin, to play for the troops in hospitals and munitions factories up and down the land. This, too, brought record crowds to her performances whether as recitalist or concerto soloist.


Joyce’s success on the concert platform or the recording studio was based on a very shrewd self assessment. A superb technical facility allowed her to play, with ease, any work she attempted at the piano. But she lacked interpretative depth – and she knew it. So she avoided music like the late sonatas of Beethoven, for instance, with which she could not identify compellingly. Hers was essentially a superficial gift – and she  exploited it brilliantly. It won over a huge international audience.


Much later in life, she developed an interest in the harpsichord and this at a time when

baroque performance practice was almost unknown – and she is rightly credited with doing valuable pioneering work drawing attention to often neglected early music.


In old age, Joyce very much wanted to honour the memory of her parents and she did so, on the advice of the late Sir Frank Callaway, founding professor of  UWA’s School of Music, by donating significant monies to the university to purpose-build a small auditorium on campus. And it is widely agreed that the Eileen Joyce Studio is one of the most beautiful appointed and situated venues of its kind in the world. It houses a collection of historic pianos as well as water colour paintings of Joyce as concerto soloist at London’s Royal Festival Hall. There is also a fine Augustus John portrait of Joyce when young. There’s also an oil paining of her in doctoral robes (she was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by UWA).


To mark the centenary, Piers Lane who stood in for Joyce years earlier when her hands were not up to the job, will give a recital of works close to Joyce’s heart at the Octagon on Sunday March 16th at 5pm: the program includes the 24 Preludes, opus 28 by Chopin and Grainger’s arrangement of the first movement of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.   Perhaps the recital organisers will arrange to have the paintings and drawings of Eileen Joyce displayed in the Octagon foyer on the day of the recital.


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