Tag Archives: St George’s Cathedral

Christopher Herrick (organ)

St George’s Cathedral


reviewed by Neville Cohn

Perhaps it was the unusual recital time – a Saturday at 5:30pm – that kept concertgoers away. It was their loss because Herrick is no run-of-the-mill organist. In fact, his CD recordings sell by the bushel which, if his offerings at St George’s Cathedral are anything to go by, is hardly surprising. Because Herrick is to the organ what Horowitz is to the piano – a phenomenal virtuoso. This was exemplified in his account of Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on a theme of Meyerbeer.

All the drama and dazzle inherent in the work came through in the most powerful and satisfying way with finger and foot in absolute accord. Certainly, momentum was scrupulously maintained during even the most gruelling of episodes. By even the strictest of critical criteria, this was a performance worth getting excited about.

But there’s far more to Herrick’s skill at the organ than the ability to perform as a console athlete. He’s a musician to the fingertips – and toes, for that matter (his pedalling is phenomenally secure) – and this was specially evident in his account of Bach’s Trio Sonata No 6 in G which unfolded in the most musically logical way, wondrously buoyant in the opening Vivace and quietly eloquent in the central Lento.

There was a rarity, certainly for Perth: Chelsea Fayre by the quaintly named Reginald Goss-Custard. This was a disappointing curtain raiser, with finger and foot not always in accord, resulting in an unfortunate rhythmic waywardness. But Herrick, who was for a number of years, organist to London’s Westminster Abbey, retrieved the initiative in Edwin Lemare’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, a glittering crowd pleaser if there ever was one. And Franck’s Cantabile was an expressively considered essay in introspection.

This recital was tantalisingly brief. Certainly, one would have liked to hear more Bach not least because Herrick’s reputation rests so much on his performances of the Master’s music and the numerous recordings of the Bach oeuvre he has made for the Hyperion label.

© Neville Cohn 2005

Gavin Bryars Composer-in-residence (PIAF)

Composer-in-residence (PIAF)

St George’s Cathedral

Reviewed by Neville Cohn



Gavin Bryars is a burly, black-clad figure with a shaven cranium who might be mistaken for a night club bouncer but is a cove of a very different stripe. The music that pours from his pen is the antithesis of his physical appearance. Most of that offered at St George’s Cathedral at two well-attended concerts is couched in often hushed terms, music of mainly gentle, very gradually evolving ideas which, on paper – and this goes to the crux of his output – might seem a sure recipe for tedium but instead, in a way difficult to define, engages the attention totally.
Most of his output experienced at these two cathedral concerts sounds entirely in accord with Bryars’ fascination with the nature of ‘musical slowness’ and what he calls ‘innovative simplicity’.

Gavin Bryars 1-PAGE ONE

Bryars, too, has an ability to see creative potential in what others might dismiss as expendable rubbish, as exemplified in his inspired musical treatment of a strip of recording tape containing a single line from Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me sung in a thin, quavering voice by an elderly hobo, now dead. Bryars wrote the simplest of orchestral accompaniments to the vocal tape played over and over again. But what might, on the face of it, seem a sure recipe for tedium is, in fact, an utterly engrossing listening experience which, in its poignancy, places it in a special category of excellence.

At this Tura New Music event, we also heard Daniel Kossov as soloist in Bryars’ Violin Concerto with Roger Smalley a meticulously prepared conductor. Kossov’s exquisitely hushed, finely drawn violin line, to an often muted accompaniment, called water-colour images of mist-enshrouded landscapes to mind, an essay in tranquillity.

Percussion ensemble Tetrafide gave us an account of One Last Bar Then Joe Can Sing, yet another of Bryars’ fascinating experiments in musical gentleness. I felt strongly drawn to this, as the five percussionists created hushed auras of sound by bowing crotales and vibraphones which combined with marimba murmurings and delicate use of windchimes to produce some of the most soothing music imaginable.

I found Bryars’ Viennese Dance No 1 bewildering as was Bryars program note that Mata Hari (Dutch, her real name was Gertrud Zelle) was one of the three most celebrated dancers in the world. Really? I could not, in all frankness, discern anything about this work that could persuade me that it unequivocally suggested either Vienna or the dance.

But Bryars’ String Quartet No 3 was very much more satisfying musical fare. Deeply felt, often throbbing with ardour, its most passionate moments called Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht to mind and held the attention throughout despite the irritating intrusion of traffic roaring along St George’s Terrace. This was yet another excellent contribution by the Cremona Quartet which has been one of the glories of PIAF 2004.

© 2004

Israel in Egypt (Handel)

Israel in Egypt (Handel)


St George’s Cathedral Chorus and Sinfonia
St George’s Cathedral

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

Unlike the bad old days when choirs singing Handel’s oratorios would routinely outnumber the accompanying orchestra five or so to one, we heard Israel in Egypt at St George’s Cathedral where, give or take a few, there were about as many in the choir as the orchestra. These would have been roughly the numbers Handel had in mind when writing the oratorio – and, some reservations aside, this worked well. But in so large a space as the cathedral, one sensed a need at choral climaxes for some modest beefing up of choral numbers to more adequately ride the crest of the accompanying orchestral wave which, in turn, could have done with some strengthening of the strings to underscore the grandeur of the oratorio’s more spectacular choruses.

In the minds of many oratorio fanciers, Israel in Egypt, qualitatively, ranks higher even than Messiah which has been Handel’s top box office draw for centuries. I dare say that because Handel’s take on the Old Testament Exodus story concentrates primarily on choral items, it is less attractive to concertgoers for whom Handel’s solo arias are the chief appeal. The loss is their’s because Israel in Egypt brims with some of the Master’s happiest inspirations.

“He gave them hailstones”, for instance, is magnificent music – and, under Simon Lawford’s direction, the trumpeters and choristers responded to it with commendable attack and follow-through. And Tim White’s thudding kettle drums added significantly to the choir’s response as they sang “But the waters overwhelmed their enemies”. Earlier, in “But as for His people”, vocal lines coalesced and separated in a consistently musical way. But in some of the less-convincing choral contributions, some weaknesses of the inner voices tended to blur details.

It was a particularly good night for the brass with trumpets adding a memorable dimension to “The Lord shall reign”. But if strings sounded dismayingly scrappy in the introduction to “The Lord is my strength”, they were much on their mettle in rapid passagework simulating the buzz and whine of flies, lice and locusts in the chorus about those plagues visited upon the Egyptians. I admired, too, the sturdiness of the striding accompaniment to “The Lord shall reign forever”.

Vocal soloists were drawn from the choir – and of these, Jonathan Daventry shone with an echt alto quality and clear diction that gave point and meaning to his account of “Their land brought forth frogs”. There was also an impressive offering by bass Andrew Moran. And if there was some forcing of the tone in Stuart Haycock’s aria “The enemy said”, his recitatives were uniformly polished.

Hopefully, this imaginative alternative to yet another airing of Handel’s Messiah will set a trend towards more enterprising oratorio choices for Perth. What about Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ which hasn’t been mounted here in years – or Handel’s Samson?

© December 2003