Perth Concert Hall
reviewed by Neville Cohn
As almost everyone knows from the much-loved fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty can awaken only after she has been kissed by a handsome prince. But did you know there’s another Sleeping Beauty? She is not nearly as famous as the young lady in the fairy tale, of course. But she is no less important. In fact, she may even be MORE important than her somnolent counterpart.
She has a wondrous golden glow about her, especially when in the spotlight. And, unlike a number of her close relations, her neck has never been replaced. But unlike her cousin in the fairy tale, she doesn’t respond at all to the kiss of a prince. In fact, for this Sleeping Beauty to awaken, she needs to be stroked by a horsehair bow – and then she sings with a seductiveness that has ensured her fame ever since she came into the world in a workshop in Cremona, Italy in 1704.
Just the other day, there’s been coverage in the news about the oldest man in the world. He is 113 years old and lives in Britain but Sleeping Beauty is far older than that. In fact, she is more than THREE hundred years old but she looks and sounds considerably better than that British geriatric.
An audience that packed the Concert Hall almost to capacity at the weekend, saw just how beautiful this Sleeping Beauty looks. And when Isabelle Faust, to whom Sleeping Beauty is on loan from a German bank, stroked her with her bow, she sang with the sweetest, most silvery of voices. I dare say, though, that it might be her great age that caused her exquisite voice to sing unusually softly so that at times it was necessary to lean forward in one’s seat in the 17th row to catch every fine detail of the solo part of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. And apart from a less-than-assured opening moment, it was clear that the soloist is profoundly musical and technically adroit although her stage presence was curiously lacklustre. Faust was impressive in steering a faultless way through the cadenza – and trills were immaculately spun in the slow movement.
Although Mendelssohn wrote a number of concertos, it is this one that is far and away the most loved of them all. And it was good to hear this queen of concertos offered with such understanding on the part of the soloist. An earlier concerto for the violin is a juvenile effort of little moment. And a concerto for violin and piano soloists was recorded on the HMV label in the 1960s with Yehudi Menuhin and Gerald Moore as soloists. It’s sinking into deserved oblivion. And Mendelssohn’s two concertos for piano, like drooping aspidistra leaves, thoroughly deserve to disappear from the repertoire as well.
An orchestra is as good as its conductor – and when the baton is waved by a gifted musician, the W.A.Symphony Orchestra more often than not responds impressively and has done so at exceptional levels in recent years. But this was not always the case at the weekend where, too frequently at climaxes during Weber’s overture to Oberon, the brass section sounded uncharacteristically coarse – and one would have hoped for a more uniform tonal sheen from the strings. This playing was so out of character for the WASO that one wondered whether sufficient rehearsal time had been devoted to the program. Much the same could be said of Beethoven’s Symphony No 1.