W.A.Piano Trio and friends

Darlington Hall, Darlington

 

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

One of Jon Tooby’s most cherished childhood memories is of attending concerts by the now-disbanded W.A.String Quartet at Darlington Hall. Tooby (a cellist in the W.A.Symphony Orchestra), his wife and two young daughters, live in Darlington in a house that borders on the primary school which he attended in the 1970s.

In 2003, Tooby, together with colleagues Semra Lee (violin) and Tommaso Pollio (piano), hatched a plan to form an ensemble – the W.A. Piano Trio – to present concerts in Darlington.

An immediate requirement was a piano in good condition. To kickstart a fund to purchase an instrument, Tooby organised a raffle, the first prize being a concert given by the trio at any venue nominated by the winner. It was hoped enough raffle money would come in to purchase a fair quality upright piano.

In 2004, the W.A.Piano Trio presented three programs. In the first concert, a borrowed upright piano was used. “But as news got out in the Darlington community of plans for further concerts as well as the need to buy a piano, local organisations made offers of financial support”, said Tooby. The Darlington Review, the Darlington Hall Restoration Fund, the Darlington Arts Festival as well as the Darlington Uniting Church (which held a very successful jumble sale) soon raised enough money to buy a Yamaha grand piano. It is kept in the hall in a specialised storage unit built by Tooby.

In 2005, five concerts were given and concertgoers, not only from the Hills but from as far away as Fremantle, thronged Darlington Hall.

There’s more to these events than just the music. Tooby says that “three wonderful ladies – Jane Arnold, Victoria Paul and Karen Harvey – volunteered to provide a sumptuous afternoon tea after each concert and this is now an integral part of our Darlington performances”.

And on a rain-sodden afternoon at the weekend, Darlington hall was the place to be. Crammed to capacity by chamber music enthusiasts, we heard double bass player Joan Wright in yet another performance of Tom Johnson’s Failing, a remarkably original little work which, over the years, has become inextricably associated with this fine musician. It’s no pushover.

It requires the soloist to natter away engagingly on the nature of failing while succeeding in playing increasingly tricky things on the double bass. It’s rather like patting your head while rubbing your tummy. It can be done but it’s really difficult to bring off successfully. Wright, though, does it wonderfully – and, as ever, she brought the house down.

Brett Dean’s Voices of Angels is music of a very much more serious stripe. Written for violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano, it is a powerful utterance that makes for disconcerting listening. Dean’s Angels are not exactly the consoling, light-drenched beings one usually thinks of as God’s messengers. On the contrary, one is assailed by insectivorous buzzings – and moans and sighs that conjure up images of grief-stricken, hand-wringing anguish. At times, there is about the work, with its frantic plucking of strings and violent tremolos, a barely concealed hysteria. It provides an utterly absorbing listening experience – but it is definitely not the sort of music to sit back and relax to; it is far too confronting for that.

But there was, after interval, a significant lightening of mood when the quintet – Semra Lee(violin), Brett Dean (viola), Jon Tooby (cello), Joan Wright (double bass) and Tommaso Pollio (piano) – essayed Schubert’s glorious Trout Quintet. If ever there was a composition of unalloyed joyfulness, it is this, as page after page of irrepressibly cheery and optimistic music filled the hall. It’s a work of some length – but played with such understanding that time flew by. Here was a performance that was the progeny of the happiest of musical marriages between a score of genius and deeply committed musicianship on the part of the players. Certainly, it was a reading that brought one very close to the central shrine of Schubert’s imagination.

This excellent chamber music series now draws so many people that consideration is being given to presenting each program twice. Not the least of the positive factors here is the venue’s first rate acoustic. And the Yamaha piano has a bright, clear tone and is in fine condition. It has its home in the main body of the hall, the players positioning themselves against one wall with seating arranged in semicircles around the performing area. The stage, set with wicker chairs, serves as a gallery.

After the performance, concertgoers repaired to an adjoining hall for afternoon tea shared with the musicians which helped make a pleasant event all that more convivial.

Copyright Neville Cohn 2006


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