Symphony under the Spanish Stars

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Pioneer Women’s Memorial, Kings Park

 

reviewed by Neville Cohnslava

 

If, at a performance given by the W.A.Symphony Orchestra at Perth’s acoustically perfect Concert Hall, a number of concertgoers brought picnic hampers with them from which they extracted platters of rice salad, cheese and tomato sandwiches, a bottle of champagne loudly popped and slices of rock melon which they proceeded to variously devour and drink, it would cause an outcry and a request to leave the venue immediately.

But if the same scenario plays out on the beautifully grassed, gently sloping grounds around the Pioneer Women’s Memorial in Kings Park while listening to the WASO, no one would raise an eyebrow. And that was very much the case when an audience of some three thousand had their picnic dinners as twilight fell over this idyllic setting and the local ducks waddled importantly around the grounds in the hope of a free feed. The weather (which can make or break an evening of this sort) was near-perfect.

 

As an hour-long prelude to the program proper, we heard Guapo, an instrumental ensemble that focusses primarily on the music of Piazzolla, more of which would be heard later in the evening. It was a thoroughly professional presentation.

Music amplified by electronic means seldom sounds entirely satisfactory, certainly not as it would reach the listener in, say, the Concert Hall with its wondrously fine acoustics. And having a near-constant, if relatively muted, input from an open-air concert being given at the WACA ground by Fleetwood Mac was not a welcome contribution to the proceedings. But, these reservations notwithstanding, there was more than sufficient evidence that the WASO is getting back to the form that made so many concerts memorable in 2003.

Extracts from Manuel de Falla’s El Amor Brujo did not fare well, though, largely due, for much of the time, to conductor Benjamin Northey’s relentlessly rigid rhythms which lent a mechanical quality to the performance. Later, there was rather more rhythmic give and take in a rare airing of Gershwin’s Cuban Overture.

A brief weakening of concentration and an occasional slip of the finger aside, guitarist Slava Grigoryan did well in Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, although in the opening pages of the concerto, guitar sound was overly amplified. But it was in an arrangement for guitar of Albeniz’s piano piece Sevilla that Grigoryan came fully into his own in playing that was stylish and, in its more virtuosic episodes, nimble, controlled and accurate. And I liked the expressiveness and beauty of tone with which he essayed the slower passages of the piece.

Cathie Travers, whose musical versatility is a byword, contributed to the concert not only as accordionist but also as arranger. I very much liked her re-working of Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel which, to a notable extent, conveyed that haunting, bittersweet quality that lies at the core of so much of Piazzolla’s music. Most of the Argentinian tango-meister’s music was conceived for small groups of musicians; it’s seldom heard in arrangements for symphony-size orchestras. Certainly, it was a new – and engaging – listening experience for me.

There was more Piazzolla but in more intimate mode in Romance del Diablo with Travers playing a veteran Titano accordion in ensemble with Grigoryan, Graeme Gilling (keyboard), Daniel Kossov (violin) and Boguslaw Szczepaniak (double bass). Here, too, the essence of Piazzolla’s tango-based ideas were captured like a moth in the gentlest of hands.

Both these arrangements deserve to be heard under better acoustic circumstances.

In passing: there were roars of good-natured laughter (doubtless due to Western Power’s lamentable handling of the power crisis a short while ago) when an offical from that utility drew the winning ticket from a barrel to give a lucky concertgoer $500’s worth of electricity.

 

Copyright 2004


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