Tag Archives: W.A.Symphony Orchestra

W.A.Symphony Orchestra


Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


On Saturday, Shostakovich’s Festive Overture was informed by a sense of immense gaiety, an ideal way to launch an orchestral program. Brass calls and woodwinds in fine fettle brought the overture to genial, pulsing life. The joie de vivre that lies at its heart was evoked to the nth degree by visiting Israeli conductor Dan Ettinger, a conductor who knew exactly what he was doing. The roar of approval that greeted the conclusion of the work was thoroughly warranted.


Ettinger has conducted opera at Covent Garden and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. He has also made a DVD of Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas directed by Achim Freyer as well as conducting the Ring at Tokyo’s New National Theatre.


Unlike its heyday when it featured in the repertoire of just about every pianist in Europe from Liszt down, Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G minor is seldom heard these days. On Saturday, the featured soloist was Argentine Ingrid Fliter, gowned in black with a floral motif. After some initial blurring and slips of the finger, the soloist retrieved the initiative, marshalling Mendelssohn’s floodtide of often ferociously taxing notes with gratifying skill and elan.


Violas were in particularly fine fettle in the slow movement with Fliter revealing its introspective, lyrical essence with very real understanding. And in the finale, the soloist gave us a scintillating account in a way which allowed the composer’s ideas to be heard in the most meaningful of ways. From first note to last, Ettinger took the WASO through an ideal accompaniment.


Warm, protracted applause was rewarded by a perhaps overlong encore – the first of Chopin’s published waltzes – played with a flair and fluency that informed the music with a delightful buoyancy.


There wasn’t an empty chair – with many standing – to listen to Tim White’s first rate pre-concert talk, brimming with fascinating fact. For those standing further back, though, there was a need for greater sound amplification.

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Veronika EberleThere was a near-capacity audience  to listen to Veronika Eberle making her WASO debut as soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Glamorously gowned in yellow, she played on a Stradivarius violin –  known as the  Dragonetti and dating from 1700 – on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.


Stylistically, Eberle’s playing was impeccable, her skill on the fingerboard beyond criticism. Bowing technique and phrase-shaping were masterly. But  listening from a seat at the rear of the front stalls, one sensed a need for rather more carrying tone in the upper reaches of the range, particularly when playing softly and needing to stand out from the accompanying orchestral sound. But this was to a degree compensated for by the delightful, silvery quality of tone that Eberle coaxed from her instrument.


Defying concert convention, the audience burst into sustained applause at the conclusion of the first movement. This is, of course, contrary to standard practice – but this was really a very minor departure from the norm when considering that when the Beethoven concerto had its very first ever performance in 1806, the soloist – Franz Clement – at the same point in the work entertained the audience by playing one of his own compositions performed on one string of the violin while holding the instrument upside down!  Compared to that circus-style desecration, the applause that broke out at the same point of the performance on Friday is absolutely pardoned.


Eberle’s golden-toned account of the lengthy cadenza was impeccable.


I cannot too highly praise the quality of orchestral accompaniment. It was a joy to the ear, with Asher Fisch coaxing consistently meaningful responses from a WASO in great form. It augurs well for the oncoming concert season. The introduction was informed by an altogether appropriate magisterial quality; it sounded entirely right, so much so that if, by some miracle of time travel, Beethoven could have been present at the performance, I’d like to think he’d have gone backstage afterwards to shake Fisch’s hand and perhaps ask for his autograph. Horns, trumpets and kettle drums were in great form, the musicians consistently on their mettle.


Incidentally, it’s seventy years since the concerto was first performed by the WASO – with, as soloist, the unforgettable, magnificent Ginette Neveu.


There was also a well-attended and fascinating pre-concert talk by Marilyn Phillips in the terrace-level foyer.



W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

review by Neville Cohn


WA Symphony OrchestraI was surprised to read in the printed program that the WASO’s performance at the weekend of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy was the first time it has been played since 1972.


Perhaps one of the reasons for this near-half century absence from its programs is that the work is often thought of as little more than a trial run for Beethoven’s Symphony No 9.  But for those with ears to hear, the Fantasy is a work of magnificence which deserves to be performed far, far more frequently than is the case.


Asher Fisch, who is as versatile as he is gifted, presided over events from the keyboard, seated at the piano with his back to the audience. As well, the piano lid had been removed to enable conductor, orchestra, and singers to see one another. But the vice of this virtue was that with the lid removed, piano sound was not as effectively directed into the auditorium so that Asch’s immensely authoritative playing was not heard to best advantage.


Laurels to both the choir and the vocal soloists. Their singing was of such high standard that for much of the performance, all that this critic needed to do was to sit back and savour each delightful moment.


I sincerely hope that Perth concertgoers won’t have to wait a near-half century before this magnificent opus is programmed again.


In Beethoven’s Ninth, Fisch and his forces were no less on their musical toes. Again and again in this work of high genius, one sensed the care lavished on fine detail both instrumental and vocal. Strings were spot-on. So, too, were bassoons and oboes in rising to the work’s many challenges. Throughout, Fisch allowed the music to speak for itself, never imposing himself between audience and score, a trap into which so many lesser musicians fall.


I particularly liked the buoyant, jovial character of the playing and not even fleeting moments during which woodwinds were not always synchronised with the rest of the orchestra, could detract from the delightful, dance-like character of the score.


There was crass, unwanted applause as the vocal soloists came on-stage just before the Adagio began. But would it not have been a more practical idea for the soloists to come onstage with the conductor, taking their seats before the performance began which would have avoided this unwanted interruption to the flow of the symphony?


It says much for the focus and professionalism of all concerned that, notwithstanding

this interruption to the proceedings, Fisch and his forces came up trumps again and again. The opening Allegro came across magnificently, allowing one, as ever, to marvel at the sonic miracle created by a man imprisoned in a terrifying world of utter silence. The scherzo, too, reached for the heights coming across as a jovial, stamping dance.  And notwithstanding some crumpled horn notes, the adagio unfolded seamlessly.


In the awe-inspiring finale, trumpets did wonders – and there were wonderfully sonorous contributions from the lower strings.


WASO choristers: step forward and take a thoroughly deserved bow. This was one of the choir’s most meaningful moments; the polished, disciplined skill brought to the performance augurs well for upcoming concerts. As a quartet, the vocal soloists were in splendid accord, too. I particularly liked the contribution of bass soloist David Parkin who clothed each note he sang with frankly beautiful tone. Much the same could be said of Henry Choo who brought refinement and impeccable taste to everything he sang.


As a curtain raiser, we listened to Beethoven’s Namensfeier overture. Arguably the Master’s dullest offering, this was its first WASO outing since 1955.





L’Elisir d’Amore (Donizetti)


W.A.Opera Company and Chorus

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


In more than half a century of attending opera productions here and abroad, I cannot  recall so frankly delightful a production of Donizetti’s comic masterpiece. What, I wonder, would the composer have thought of his opera being set in the Australian outback during WW1 with the male chorus on horseback kitted out as cavalry?


Simon Phillips has done wonders with the work, underscoring its comic dimension to a gratifying degree and giving the opera as a whole a freshness of conception in visual terms that clearly – and understandably – delighted a capacity audience.


It scores high on the ‘zany’ gauge. Horses are made of what looks like cut-out corrugated cardboard. The same goes for dogs and sheep. And sets are the perfect backdrop for on-stage comedy in an outback setting.


It was an inspiration to cast Rachelle Durkin and Aldo di Toro as the leads. Each was perfectly suited to the role in both vocal and theatrical terms. And as a duo, the operatic chemistry could hardly have been bettered. It sizzled.


Durkin has a priceless comic gift which, allied to a voice in top form, makes her an artist of formidable ability. She was in A1 form as Adina.  Aldo di Toro, too, was in splendid fettle, reaching for – and touching –  the stars. He is perfectly suited to the role of Nemorino.


Marco Nistico was a most convincing Dr Dulcamara, that shonkiest of snake-oil salesmen, a purveyor of  extremely dubious remedies for just about any ailment. And Jennifer Barrington was a delightful Gianetta. Laurels, too, to Jose Carbo who wsas in fine form as Belcore.


From the pit, Stuart Stratford presided over a reduced-size WASO. Tempi were almost invariably sensible and workable. Adam Mikulicz played, beautifully, the bassoon introduction to Una furtive lagrima, the singing of which quite rightly brought the house down..


Of the women’s chorus, this: the singing was delightful, the ladies seeming positively to embrace their roles, underscoring the comic dimension of the work with gusto. The male chorus did well, too.




FAUST (Gounod) W.A.Opera Company and Chorus W.A.Symphony Orchestra

FAUST (Gounod)

W.A.Opera Company and Chorus
W.A.Symphony Orchestra
His Majesty’s Theatre


reviewed by Neville Cohn 



What elevates this production of Gounod’s Faust to a special category of excellence is its unequivocal and powerful anti-war message. Of many presentations of Faust encountered over the decades, most of them significant in one way or another, not one – until now – has so effectively conveyed the madness of armed conflict. In every other production I’ve seen, the Soldiers’ Chorus scene, that most instantly recognisable of all Faust excerpts, has featured in an unambiguously celebratory way with flags fluttering, soldiers proudly marching and sweethearts and parents jovial, proud and smiling.

This has become an operatic cliché, that is to say, until this production which sweeps away this jingoistic hokum, a patently false notion of war as fun. Instead, we’re given a stunningly different dramatic statement. Here we see disfigured and dying soldiery, the maimed on crutches, some on stretchers, others pasty-faced, shell-shocked, blankly staring. It made for powerful viewing and listening (not that it’s ever likely to stop old men with too much power sending young men – and now women – to often pointless deaths).

Also memorable was that other crucial episode in which the devil reveals his Achilles heel, cowering as dark-clad choristers show him the sign of the cross as they sing the Chorale of the Swords.

Bruce Martin was a good choice as the Devil; he has cornered the local market insofar as diabolical types are concerned. And here, his sardonic, leering presence (with his improbable retinue of muscle men in Arabian Nights-style garb) could hardly be faulted.

Keith Lewis was unfailingly expressive in the eponymous role although occasionally his voice let him down with a cracked note her and there high on the register. But in visual terms, he appeared far too youthful in the opening scene. Faust, after all, is a very old man with fading libido, contemplating suicide, when he has his satanic encounter and, in what turns out to be a very poor bargain, sells his soul in return for youth and women.

In this production, though, he seemed, to begin with, little more than middle-aged, neither grey-haired nor balding as one would expect of someone nearing the end of life. And removing his spectacles for his transformtion did almost nothing to make him look any younger.

His scene in which Faust stabs Valentin, Marguerite’s brother, to death – his knife guided by the devil – came across powerfully, even more so because – in a rare departure from the norm – Siebel, too, is fatally knifed by Faust.

For much of the evening, Elisa Wilson, as Marguerite, shaped to the demands of her role like wine to a goblet. Sounding more vocally assured than I can readily recall in some time, she was, variously, modest, coquettish and – pregnant with Faust’s bastard child – deranged.

This latter incarnation, though vocally persuasive, bordered on melodrama, Marguerite’s pasty white face more appropriate for, say, a distressed heroine in some 1917-era silent movie; it was over the top. But there was compensation in her aria about the King of Thule; it was altogether pleasing.

And the descent to Hell, in a clinch, of Faust and Mephistopheles was, visually, a moment of such inconsequence as to almost entirely drain it of dramatic force. Unusually, the closing scene, traditionally set in a prison, was an insane asylum. And instead of Marguerite’s soul being seen to be borne aloft by angels, as Gounod envisaged it, we see her dying against a tableau of asylum inmates gesturing heavenwards and watched by two nuns who charmingly keep their charges under control by bashing them with wooden clubs.

There was some inspired casting in smaller roles. Fiona Campbell, unrecognisable as Siebel, the young man charged with protecting Marguerite, was, as ever, in glorious voice. (Why is this exceptional singer not heard in more substantial roles?). Also a delight was Sarah-Janet Dougiamas as Marguerite’s neighbour Marthe Schwerlein. Every note and gesture was here made meaningful; she, too, is a singer to watch. Mark Alderson as Wagner and Lucas de Jong as Valentin made the most of minor roles.

In this Olympic season, it was conductor Stephen Barlow who thoroughly deserved a laurel crown, drawing from a reduced W.A.Symphony Orchestra in the pit, some of the most persuasive accompaniments I can recall hearing at an opera at His Majesty’s Theatre. Strings sounded gratifyingly fine and oboist Joel Marangella and Alan Meyer (clarinet) provided outstanding contributions.

There were any number of imaginative directorial touches such as placing the chorus under umbrellas with what was presumably the pre-recorded sound of rain heard in the background. Dressing the chorus in dark blue or black was an inspiration, adding memorably to the brooding, oppressive nature of much of the opera. But most unusually for a WAOC production, the chorus was not always quite synchronised with the accompanying orchestra.

I admired Matthew Barclay’s choreography which, unlike most dance presentations in Faust, was cleverly woven into, rather than gratuitously imposed on, the action. Shane Collard, with clean line and strong presence, shows much promise.

John Gunter designed the sets, that of Act 1 – Faust’s study – cluttered with the detritus of a scholarly life, a place clearly foreign to any cleaning lady’s ministrations. Nigel Levings’ lighting design splendidly underscored the prevailing mood of the moment.

Copyright Neville Cohn 2004