Tag Archives: Tchaikowsky

Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra

Hale School Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

HernShuan Hern Lee is not yet thirteen years old, yet his skill at the piano is suggestive of a pianist decades older. I listened in astonishment to his account of the Piano Concerto No 1 by Tchaikowsky. This formidably taxing work has been the graveyard of more than a few pianists’
reputations ­ but not on this occasion as the 12­ year­ old navigated a consistently impressive way through this most treacherous of Tchaikowsky’s concertos.

Impeccable memory, an unflagging beat and consistent clarity were, for the most part, entirely in keeping with the work’s requirements. Certainly, this young pianist made the auditorium’s Stuart concert grand piano sound better than anyone else I can recall playing it over the years. The demanding cadenza was a tour de force.

On the evidence of this performance, this precocious young man is clearly set on the right path in musical terms. I look forward to listening to his remarkable playing again.

Throughout, Christopher Dragon presided over the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra which responded with a will to his direction – but evident throughout the performance were worrying lapses in intonation. The importance of secure pitch is crucial and more care needs to be invested in this requirement in rehearsal and presentation. An improvement in this area can only prove

Earlier, we listened to one of Tchaikowsky’s early symphonies. As in the concerto, it was clear that each and every musician was focussed on doing the best job possible; it pulsed with sincerity – but again, insecure intonation was ever­present.

BALLET – Onegin



W.A.Ballet Company

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth

reviewed by Alice Woode


Mood-wise, this production of Onegin near-perfectly captures the autumnal essence of Pushkin’s immortal tale of love and despair.


In visual terms, its muted, finely balanced colours in both lighting, costumes and decor evoke bittersweet nuances of a tale of love spurned and lost, disappointment and violent death.


Jayne Smeulders is an altogether convincing Tatiana. In the famous letter scene, she could hardly be faulted, beautifully conveying the tragic heroine’s infatuation with Onegin and her devastation when she realises he does not return her affections. Melissa Boniface, too, is entirely persuasive as Tatiana’s sister Olga.

Jayne Smeulders and Jiri Jelinek RES

Jayne Smeulders and Jiri Jelinek
Photo Credit – Jon Green

Lavish bouquets for the manner in which technical skill and expressiveness blend to often moving effect in all the pas de deux in which Smeulders and Boniface are partnered by Jiri Jelinek in the title role and Dane Holland as Lensky;  these were the gems of the production, with finely honed technique and a world of disciplined emotion.

It was only in the duel scene where inspiration seemed to flag; it lacked the intensity and high drama that were needed.


One of the many delights of the production is the quality of the corps de ballet. With disciplined fluidity of movement and first rate ensemble, the corps’ dancing is like a silver thread through the production. The charm-laden ball scene in which both young and decrepit give comic point and meaning to the dance is in the best sense of the word diverting. Whether light-hearted or sombre, the corps come up trumps again and again. Carole Hill does wonders as Tatiana’s often hilariously fussy nursemaid.


Although the dancing is to the music of Tchaikowsky, one of the greatest of all composers for the ballet, none of it, of course, is purpose-written for the dance. Happily, though, nearly all of it fits seamlessly into the late John Cranko’s superlative choreography. A good many episodes are danced to orchestrations of some of the composer’s short pieces for piano: the haunting Autumn and the quiet rapture of the Barcarolle (both from The Seasons) – and the exquisite Nocturne from opus 19. Again and again, one is able to savour how cleverly Cranko’s choreography blends both movement and music to beguiling effect.


Imaginative lighting, too, does much to underscore the autumnal nature of the piece, an impression further enhanced by the use of Elizabeth Dalton’s wing scenery depicting, inter alia, a leafy forest that brings a charming, rather faded, mid-19th-century perspective to the production. Dalton also designed the costumes worn with great flair by the company.


At times, one wished for rather more uniform tonal sheen from the string section of the WASO.

The Great Pianists



Shura Cherkassky / Leopold Godowsky

Dal Segno DSPRC D051

TPT: 60’10”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Shura Cherkassky is in his element here. A master of pianistic fantasy,  he,  Midas-like, transforms everything he touches into musical gold. Not the least of the wonders of this offering is the fact that, despite his pianism sounding like that of a mature, arrived master, Cherkassky was still a teenager when making these piano rolls. I cannot too highly praise his playing.


Listen, for instance, to his account of Tchaikowsky’s Song without Words, a miniature routinely murdered by legions of earnest, untalented school girls and boys. Here, its oh-so-hackneyed measures flash into enchanting life.


Rachmaninov’s Polka de W.R, too, with its magical lift to the phrase, seduces the ear as does Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase, where astounding fleetness of finger, perfectly finished, rippling arabesques and wondrous tonal colourings make this fiendishly difficult work sound ridiculously easy.


Cherkassky’s name is frequently spelled incorrectly as Cherkassy!


Leopold Godowsky is in another class; his playing had an emotional depth that Cherkassky never reached. He gives a wondrous account of Mozkowski’s Polonaise in D in playing that is informed by a superb hauteur. From the opening fanfare-type flourishes, it is clear we are in the presence of a master although his rubato sounds excessive to early 21st-century tastes. Schumann’s Traumerei, too, is mined for every subtlety in a reading that points up detail after exquisite detail, fascinating listening despite now-quaint-sounding rubato.


Godowsky is in wonderful form in Henselt’s little Lullaby with a glorious right hand melody that would surely tempt the grumpiest bird from a twig. This and the same composer’s La Gondola are so beautifully essayed that, at least for the duration of the playing, we forget what cheap stuff it is. Godowsky’s rhythmic liberties in Chopin’s Three Ecossaises sound mannered but his account of Ballade in G minor is frankly thrilling. Here, Godowsky reaches for the stars, building up to magnificent climaxes with a brilliance that takes the breath away – and ascending octave passages at a speed that would have had other virtuosos nervously looking to their laurels. At its most powerful, the playing is incandescently persuasive.

Piano Grande!

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn

If you have not previously heard of Bo An Lu, make a note of the name. If his account of the first movement of Tchaikowsky’s Piano Concerto in B flat minor is anything to go by, this sixteen-year-old is on a fast track to the stars.

Seemingly unruffled by one of music’s greatest challenges – and a TEE exam the following day – Bo An employed fearless fingers to hurl massive blocks of sound, Zeus-like, into the auditorium. By any standards, this was a remarkable achievement not least for expounding Tchaikowsky’s musical argument in so lucid, mature and heroic a way. Mark Coughlan provided excellent backing on a second piano.

Fazioli  pianos are few and far between in Perth – and to have two of these magnificent and very costly concert grands temporarily under a single roof would have been a first for the city. And nine fine musicians fronted up to put these instruments to the test with both players and pianos emerging with honour enhanced. This was a piano extravaganza to cherish.

A gem of the afternoon was Romance by Rachmaninov. A particularly tricky logistic challenge for three musicians and six hands at a single keyboard, it was an admirably expressive offering by Graeme Gilling, Emily Green-Armytage and Lyn Garland.

Very much noisier Rachmaninov – his Suite No 2 for two pianos – was essayed by Green-Armytage and Adam Pinto who generated very high decibel levels for which the Ballroom was really too small a venue. The Concert Hall would have been preferable for this.

There was also some delightful insouciance in the form of  Poulenc’s L’embarquement pour Cythere which came across courtesy of Garland and Coughlan.

Also at this concert marking Zenith Music’s 40th anniversary, was the quite remarkably poised seven-year old Shuan Lee who, with his father Yoon Sen Lee, gave us an arrangement for two pianos of themes from Yellow River Concerto and Homeland.

Gilling and Coughlan also played, most sensitively, Percy Grainger’s Blithe Bells – a re-working of Bach’s serene Sheep May Safely Graze – and were joined by Garland and Pinto in Smetana’s Rondo in C, frankly charmless music that sounded a simulation of peasants engaged in a heavy-footed, bucolic dance. There was also music by Mozart in the form of a movement from a sonata for two pianos played by Kathy Chow, another gifted 16-year-old, and Yoon Sen Lee.

At this memorable offering by of some the city’s most accomplished pianists, the crowded audience included many of Perth’s leading piano teachers.

Barry Palmer, whose speech had the inestimable advantage of brevity, paid tribute to the Cranfield family who have made so singular a contribution to the music life of the city.

Noel Mewton-Wood (piano) and various orchestras


The Virtuoso

ABC Classics 476 3390

TPT: 77’18”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Noel Mewton-Wood

Noel Mewton-Wood

Piano Concerto No 1: Romanza (Chopin); Traumerei (Schumann); Piano Concerto in A minor: allegro affettuoso (Schumann); Petrarch Sonnet No 104;  Piano Concerto No1: andante semplice (Tchaikowsky); Piano Sonata No 1 in C: rondo presto; Piano Concerto No 4: rondo vivace (Beethoven); Piano Concerto: allegro con brio (Bliss); The Heart’s Assurance (Tippett) with Peter Pears (tenor)


This is an important recording which ought to be listened to by anyone with a serious interest in the piano repertoire.


Noel Mewton-Wood’s career was like a blazing comet which, having soared across the heavens, vanished –suddenly and without warning – from the firmament. Mewton-Wood’s suicide – over a lovers’ tiff – when in his early thirties, robbed the world of one of the most articulate and profound pianists ever to place music on record. These nine tracks are a catalogue of keyboard marvels that makes Mewton-Wood’s exit from the scene at so tragically early an age even more poignant.


As a child, at the dawn of the LP era, the writer was given a gift of a second-hand recording featuring Melbourne-born Mewton-Wood as soloist in Tchaikowsky’s Piano Concerto No 2 in G. To this day, the sense of wonder and delight experienced on hearing this prodigious offering is as clearly recalled as if yesterday. I still treasure that now-ancient LP with its pops and crackles a legacy of being played  times without number.


None of this performance features on this recently released CD which brims with other good things, not least wonderfully insightful readings of single movements from concertos by Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven, Tchaikowsky (No 1) and Arthur Bliss. With their frankly stunning insights by a musician of seemingly unlimited potential, this cornucopia of near-peerless offering is a reminder of what a loss the world sustained on Mewton-Wood’s premature death in England. In the Schumann movement, the playing is in turn imperious, tender and virile, every aspect of the music presented with unassailable aesthetic logic.


There’s an astonishing track devoted to the finale from Weber’s Sonata No 1 in C. I listened in astonishment to the sort of breathtaking virtuosity one more usually associates with Horowitz in his prime. It’s a feat of prestidigitation that needs to be heard to be believed. The music, qualitatively wafer-thin, has little inherent worth but the dazzling skill with which it is played makes it, for the duration of the piece, seem infinitely more important than it really is –and it is only a wizard of the keyboard that could cast such a spell.


Again and again, as one listens to these tracks, there is the sad realisation of a blazing flame of genius extinguished prematurely. Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet No 104 provides a stunning listening experience.


Liner notes by Cyrus Meher-Homji make for fascinating reading.


Hopefully, more of Mewton-Wood’s glittering piano legacy will be made available on CD not only as a reminder to those who have already experienced the magic of this extraordinary musician but to reach out to those who have not yet come upon this glittering musical treasure trove.


In the Chopin track, the musical argument is expounded with a cogency and lucidity that are breathtaking, insights that are beyond criticism in the conventional sense. Recorded sound is excellent. And Mewton-Wood manages, too, to make Bliss’ long-winded and often-vulgar concerto far more approachable than it, in fact, is.


All the works on this CD are mentioned in Sonia Orchard’s novel The Virtuoso.