Category Archives: Live Performance

Stereo Action

 

Defying Gravity

WAAPA Music Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

By just about any yardstick, Stereo Action was a thundering success. True, at times, fingers in ears were necessary to mitigate, at least to some degree, the massive sonic blasts which punctuated the evening’s proceedings. Perhaps the area of sound absorbing panels on the auditorium walls needs expansion.

 

With the linking commentary of the ever-ebullient Tim White who has done so much to make Perth a significant centre for top level percussion performances, the WAAPA students (with some additional sonic muscle provided by young student percussionists from UWA), gave ample evidence of focussed ability.

 

With so many players giving of their best, it is perhaps invidious to single out individuals for special mention. But it would be ungracious not to particularly praise the players who gave an account of white-hot intensity of Fire in the Sky – led by the extraordinary Marcus Perrozzi who also wrote the work.

 

IMG_0191Perrozzi’s skills have been honed in recent years as percussionist with Cirque de Soleil – and on Saturday, he was at his impressive best, leading the players on to the stage from the rear of the auditorium while hurling massive sonic blocks at the audience. This was a riveting experience in both sonic and visual terms.

 

Earlier, we listened to what, in the 1930s, would have been startlingly adventurous to Western ears: a major work scored for percussion instruments only. I wonder what Edgard Varese would have thought of the avalanche of Western percussion works which came in the wake of his barrier-breaking Ionisation.

 

In a program that contained much flexing of sonic muscles, Xiaowen Pan’s gentle offerings of Chinese traditional melodies on both Chinese flute and oboe provided unfettered listening pleasure.

 

Another unforgettable offering was the first ever public performance of Tao Issaro’s Trikaal which began in stygian darkness with a prolonged and unyieldingly ferocious assault on a drum surface. The sheer intensity of attack and the fierce focus required to maintain momentum brought this listener to the edge of his seat.

 

Laurels to two young percussionists, both on vibraphone, who reached for – and touched – the stars: Ben Albert in Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse and Tom Robertson in the first movement of Emmanuel Sejourne’s Concerto for Vibraphone. In the most articulate and meaningful way, these young percussionists are what Defying Gravity is all about: training and mentoring the best of young musicians who will take their skills to a wider constituency, bringing honour not only for themselves but the dedicated teachers at WAAPA who make this happen.

Mozart fortepiano duets

 

Geoffrey Lancaster and Alan Hicks (fortepiano)

Eileen Joyce Studio, University of Western Australia

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Exquisite music offered in one of the world’s most beautiful performing spaces made this homage to Mozart an experience to cherish.

 

Sadly, Mozart’s music for piano duet is seldom heard in public. Rarer still are presentations of these works on the fortepiano, the instrument for which Mozart wrote. More’s the pity as these works contain some of the Salzburg Master’s finest ideas. And the chief joy of the recital, presented by Geoffrey Lancaster and Alan Hicks, was their account of the Sonata in F, K497.

 

As Lancaster pointed out, just about the only other piano music for four hands that could be considered in the same league as K497 is Schubert’s superb Fantasie in F minor.

 

In their account of the sonata, Lancaster and Hicks presented the work as if drawing on a shared source of inspiration in even the most minute rhythmic subtleties and tonal colourings. It was a performance of highest order, the players shaping to a myriad of subtleties like fine wine to a goblet.

 

I imagine that if, by some magical time travel, the shade of Mozart had hovered over the proceedings, I believe he’d have given this account of K497 a nod of satisfaction.

 

How very differently these works sound on the fortepiano, a sonic world radically different to that of the modern piano. Thankfully, with musicians of the calibre of Lancaster and Hicks, audiences can be transported back in time to a sound world quite unlike the one in which the modern piano dominates.

 

In performance at this sold-out event, there was clearly a high-level meeting of musical minds – and the aesthetic dividends of that endeavour were substantial. Stylistically impeccable, each movement unfolded at such a level that critical antennae, usually operating at full extension, were here quite lulled.

 

Lancaster, who is as versatile as he is gifted, not only wrote the excellent program notes but also shared some of his vast knowledge of the subject in comments from the keyboard.

 

A memorable program included not only two other sonatas (K358 and K521) but also the Fugue K401, the intricacies of which were expounded with consistent authority.

Indeed, the seeming ease and clarity with which some of the fugue’s most tricky contrapuntal ideas were expounded, were a model of what fine part-playing is all about.

 

Are these works, as played by this gifted duo, on compact disc? If not, I do hope that measures are in place to preserve this magical offering.

 

Feather-light cupcakes, ribbon sandwiches and other dainties as well as liquid refreshment were on offer at interval. The only reservation about this otherwise memorable experience concerns the state of the glass wall of the studio which clearly needs cleaning to allow concertgoers an unfettered view of a splendid botanical vista.

 

Monies raised by this event are devoted to RSMC scholarships for gifted young musicians.

Music on the Terrace

Beautiful Witness

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

For more than three decades, I have attended all manner of performances at Government House Ballroom, mostly in connection with PIAF productions in earlier years and, more recently, Music on the Terrace presentations.

 

Music On the Terrace 1On Sunday, I encountered a unique offering at that celebrated venue: noted travel writer Stephen Scourfield reading extracts from his books in conjunction with both music and dance. It was one of the most absorbing offerings I’ve encountered at GHB.

 

Music on the Terrace 2Initially, Scourfield’s musings were listened to while Paul Wright played selections from Bach’s works for unaccompanied violin.

 

Wright’s service to Perth music is like a golden thread across the years. Here, he was at his impressive best in negotiating some of the most ferociously taxing music in the repertoire. Cruelly exposed at every turn, this is no-man’s-land to any but the most profound and adept of musicians.

 

Music on the Terrace 3In both tonal and stylistic terms, the music unfolded in a way that would surely have impressed the composer himself if, due to some miracle of time travel, the venerable J.S. himself had been able to attend this event. I cannot recall hearing Wright to better advantage. It was the perfect accompaniment to Scourfield’s fascinating forays into foreign fields.

 

Because the stage is only very slightly raised, thus significantly limiting full view of on-stage action for those sitting further back than the first row, video screens on either side of the stage and also positioned strategically further back in the hall, enabled everyone to get an unobscured view of proceedings. This was especially welcome in the second half of the program in which Scourfield’s readings had a visual counterpoint in the remarkable Floeur Alder’s contribution.

 

Music On the Terrace 4Beneficiary of dance genes of high order – she is the daughter of the celebrated  Lucette Aldous and Alan Alder – this young performer made magic visible. There was about her every gesture that quality of improvisation which, paradoxically, comes into being only after the most lengthy and focussed preparation. A faultless technique allied to a very real understanding of what works in choreographic responses to sound made this an experience to cherish.

 

Novel, intriguing and assured, this presentation had the stamp of distinction.  I hope we see more of this remarkable artist; she clearly has much to offer.

 

An exquisitely subtle sonic background was provided by Ashley Smith (clarinet) and Louise Devenish (percussion) positioned in the side gallery of the venue, an excellent example of less being more. Words, movement, music: a delightful offering.

 

Rather unusually, in the second half of the performance, the drapes at the rear of the stage were drawn back enabling the audience to view part of Government House gardens through the rear windows, the outlook darkening as evening encroached.

A Viennese Bouquet

 

Jonathan  Paget (guitar)/ Stewart Smith (piano)

The Grove Library, Peppermint Grove

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Billed as a program of music from the age of Jane Austen, two leading Perth musicians took an attentive audience on a journey back in time. Jonathan Paget played a Bauer guitar manufactured around 1840 in Vienna – and Stewart Smith was at the keyboard of a Clementi square piano built in London around 1830.

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Credit : Grant Hall

 

This was fascinating fare.

 

Dutch composer Karel Craeyvanger’s Introduction and Variations on a Theme from Weber’s Der Freischutz was played as if to the manner born by Paget. Blissfully free of the creaks, squeaks and clanks that bedevil the playing of so many guitarists, we were here able to savour the work as it unfolded – beautifully. I particularly admired the pianissimi which Paget conjured from the instrument – and the library’s pleasing acoustics came up trumps, too.

 

Fernando Sor’s Sonata No 1 was no less satisfying. Here, Paget gave us a most expressive interpretation with stylistically impeccable rubato.

 

Hummel’s tongue-in-cheek Pot-Pourri with its gentle obeisance to composers from Paisiello and Mozart to Spontini and Gretry was a highlight of the afternoon.

 

In Carulli’s Petit Concerto opus 140, both musicians succeeded, admirably, in revealing the gentle, intimate nature of much of the writing with ensemble throughout a model of refinement.  There was also a piano solo: Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Here, subtle rubato transformed this oh-so-familiar miniature into a listening experience of high order. Bravo!

 

Not the least of the pleasures of this presentation was the fine balance of tone between the two instruments. Each has a gentle voice. Together, their tonal manners were impeccable.

Vademecum – a Human Odyssey

 

 

devised and presented by Alex Cohen AO

Callaway Auditorium

 

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

 

SARAH MACLIVER-

 

Quite the most memorable of the offerings at this fascinating presentation was an account of Gerald Finzi’s Dies Natalis featuring The School of Music Chamber Orchestra and soprano Sara Macliver.

 

Clear diction is a crucial requirement here – and in this sense Macliver came through with banners flying. Vocal tone, too, was consistently fine in a beautifully considered presentation by one of UWA’s most distinguished music graduates.

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Throughout, the soprano line was complemented by the young UWA string players who responded most expressively to the masterly direction of Paul Wright who has done so much to raise the level of string playing at the School of Music.

 

At this most civilised of entertainments, Alex Cohen’s philosophical musings, in turn wry, gentle and self-effacing, were like a golden thread through the evening.

 

Later, Wright, with Graeme Gilling a fastidious accompanist at the piano, presented Shostakovich’s delightful Romance from The Gadfly. It was given a beautifully considered exposition. Earlier, Gilling played that perennial favourite: Myra Hess’ arrangement for piano of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

 

Alan Lourens is a master of the euphonium – and this was clearly evident in his account of an unaccompanied Tarantella by Philip Wilby.

 

Some vocal edginess was appPaul Wright Intensearent in an account of Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock in which the vocal line was complemented by Gilling at the keyboard and Ashley Smith on clarinet.