Tag Archives: Sonata

Keyed-Up series



Raymond Yong (piano)

Callaway Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Few composers are as demanding on musicians as Mozart. The tiniest misjudgement in passagework, the smallest lapse in clarity can prove disastrous. Happily, Raymond Yong succeeded in steering the clearest and most musicianly way through the solo part of Mozart’s Concerto in A, K414 ensuring, seemingly effortlessly, that the peak of the afternoon lay securely in the keeping of the Salzburg master.


It was a rarely encountered version of the work, with the orchestra here replaced by a string quartet, an alternative mooted by Mozart himself. Here, with his customary distinction, Paul Wright led a quartet made up of Isabel Hede (violin), Jared Yap (viola) and Sophie Parkinson-Stewart (cello).


If this had been Yong’s only contribution to the afternoon, it would have been an altogether fulfilling experience, such were the precision, fluency and expressive insights brought to bear on the score. Raymond Yong


Later, we heard Liszt’s massive Sonata in B minor, a work which is

no-man’s-land to all but the very few pianists able to meet its formidable challenges, not least of which is substantial staying power to maintain momentum through its frequently gruelling episodes. In its half-hour course, Liszt’s work poses immense physical and stylistic challenges that can test the mettle of the most experienced of pianists. From every standpoint, however, Yong was clearly in control. It was an heroic effort, crowned with success in a way that augurs well for a solo career of distinction. There was no hint of strain at all, despite the massive demands the sonata makes on the performer.


A bracket of the first eight of Chopin’s 24 Preludes opus 28 was less uniformly persuasive. The first, in C, barely hinted at the composer’s requirement that it be played agitato. No 5 in D sounded rather bland. But the famous Prelude in E minor was a beautifully considered offering, an essay in melancholy. The Prelude in F sharp minor, too, could hardly have been bettered, its fiercely demanding, very rapid figurations in the right hand despatched with utmost agility and accuracy.


As encore, Yong played Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat, its serenity a perfect foil to the passionate grandeur of the Liszt Sonata.

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. 





Susi 018_2Susanne Beer (1) 

Susanne Beer (cello)

Gareth Hancock (piano)

TPT: 59’46”

divine art dda25068

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Stravinsky: Suite Italienne; Debussy: Sonata for cello and piano; Brahms: Sonata for cello and piano opus 99; Morricone: Gabriel’s Oboe


On the first page of the score of Suite Italienne, in the space to the right just above the first line of music, appears the name Igor Stravinsky. I dare say some might assume, without question, that the music is by the famed creator of ballet scores such as Petrouchka, Firebird and Rite of Spring. To me, his name on the page is an artistic fraud. The delightful, charm-laden melodies of Suite Italienne are not in even the remotest sense the product of a man who, for all his genius, had great difficulty in creating memorable melodies. (He was in good company here; Beethoven, for instance, struggled for novel melody unlike, say, Schubert whose melodic gift was like an unstoppable torrent).


So, Stravinksy stole melodies – yes, stole – in the sense of purloining what did not belong to him from composers who could not fight back because they were long dead. Then, Stravinsky rewrote their delightful pieces – primarily by Pergolesi – and ensured there were a number of dissonances to make it sound ‘modern’ (although Stravinsky retained most of the original harmonies) and then raked in a bucket of money in the form of royalties. He got a good deal of mileage out of his pilfered goods with at least two suites from the ballet for violin and piano as well as this version for cello and piano.


There’s a splendid lift to the phrase in the Introduction – and in the following Serenata, Susanne Beer draws a fine ribbon of sound from her instrument, all the while informing the music with the most engaging lilt. There’s excellent double stopping here. Beer and her attentive piano partner Gareth Hancock bring an altogether appropriate sense of bucolic gruffness to the Aria and, in the Tarantella, set and maintain a spanking pace with a fine sense of onward momentum. It makes for bracing listening. Yet again, tone is excellent from both musicians, splendidly apparent in the rhythmic gusto they bring to the Finale.


Beer and Hancock are no less persuasive in Debussy’s Sonata, sounding equally convincing in stylistic terms in both turbulent and musing measures in the first movement. The Serenade and Finale make no less rewarding listening, much of it couched in passionate terms with eerie pizzicato conjuring up images of goblinesque cavortings. At the time of writing this work, Debussy was already in the grip of an unstoppable cancer – but his creativity here is at its highest, an act of wonderful creative defiance in the face of impending doom.


Brahms’ Sonata is given a model performance which comfortably holds its own against most of the competition. I very much admired the skill with which the players convey the essence of the slow movement, allowing the music to speak for itself. And the manner in which the restless demon lurking behind the printed note of the Allegro passionato is revealed is masterly.


 Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe is given nostalgia-drenched treatment.

The Musicians’ Table


Ensemble Battistin

ABC Classics 476 6996

TPT: 49’49”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


The Musicians Table

The Musicians Table

Suite for flute, violin and continuo: Pierre-Danican Philidor  9’13”

Sonata for cello and cello continuo: Joseph Bodin Boismortier  12’35” 

Sonata for two violins in A minor: Louis Gabriel Guillemain  8’02”

Sonata No 2 for flute, violin and continuo: Jean Fery Rebel  8’13”

Trio Sonata in D Boismortier opus 50 No 6:  11’31”


There is no other place in Australia quite like New Norcia: a quaint monastic town north of Perth, Western Australia. Founded by Spanish Benedictine monks in the 1840s primarily as a religious and education mission to local Aborigines, it is now known as well for its fine olive oil and bakery.


With its first rate acoustics, the Chapel of St. Ildephonsus is an ideal venue for recordings. And this compilation is yet another in a series devoted to music of the French baroque, recorded by musicians steeped – and expert – in the tradition of period performance practice. This, though, is not for a moment to suggest that the performances are drably academic or tedious. On the contrary, recorded under the benevolent gaze of emeritus David Tunley, that pre-eminent authority on the French baroque, the performers wear their scholarship lightly; there is nothing remotely dry about these performances.


This recording is a cornucopia of musical delights, not least Boismortier’s Sonata for cello and cello continuo. Recorded sound quality is first rate with the most agreeable tonal bloom, an impression enhanced by phrasing of undeviating finesse. Moods are impressively evoked; the grave pace of the Sarabande could hardly have been  bettered and the Giga is most sensitively presented. An account of Guillemain’s Sonata for two violins makes for no less agreeable listening; it is a model of stylistic integrity, as are all the items of this CD. They come across as fresh as the morning, readings to return to again and again.


How fortunate we are in Western Australia to have in our midst musicians of such high order who routinely scale Olympus. Indeed, recordings such as these will remind listeners everywhere that, although Western Australia is very far away from the main routes of the international concert circuit, there are high-calibre musicians among us who are better than most and second to few. And that is abundantly evident in this fifth volume of recordings in the Perfection of Music series.