Category Archives: Live Performance

Medea (Benda)

 

Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano) and friends

WAAPA Music Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

For many, if not most, the word ‘melodrama’ evokes movies of the silent era in which, say, the heroine is tied to railway tracks as a steam train bears down inexorably  towards the terrified victim while the villain of the piece watches with an evil smile. (This was a staple episode in many an early movie made in the USA.)

 

Back in the 18th-century, through, melodrama was thought of in the ancient Greek sense, as a work which combined music and on-stage action. One of the finest instances of the genre is Georg Benda’s Medea, a re-working of the ancient Greek tragedy in which the eponymous murderess kills her own children, a hideous story that has been a source of horrified fascination for centuries. (Mozart, incidentally, was greatly taken by Benda’s skill in melodramas of which he spoke in glowing terms.)

 

It was an inspiration to feature Geoffrey Lancaster at the fortepiano. As if to the manner born, he gave point and meaning to an often cruelly demanding score with expected flair and an ineffably fine grasp of style, mood and pace.

 

Against this immaculate sonic background, Belinda Cox, garbed in funereal black as Medea and evoking an aura of inescapable tragedy, gave an account of this demanding and lengthy role at a level which augurs well for a career on stage. Certainly, her ability to remain in character throughout says much for this young actor’s potential.

 

Smaller roles, too, were clearly taken seriously and presented with care. Ry Charlson was convincing in a very brief role as Jason as was Monica Brierley-Hay as the governess. Gretel and David Smith did well, too, as Medea’s children

 

Not the least of the pleasures afforded by this presentation was the quite exceptional quality of the program notes. They are a model of their kind and ought to be read with care by anyone with aspirations to writing program notes of any kind. Factual and fascinating, they don’t come much better than this.

Fringe Festival

Opera Undressed

Penny Shaw (soprano)/ Tommaso Pollio (keyboartd)

Casa Mondo Tent, Russell Square

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

 

Penny Shaw FRINGEWORLD Festival Opera Undressed 19 to 22 Feb 2015 Casa Mondo image by Jay AutyIt was a first­time experience for me: a striptease on the part of the accompanist for a program of well ­loved opera arias.

Initially, it was off with the jacket and bowtie. Then trousers were removed revealing bright green board shorts and hairy legs. There was more to come, though, with board shorts also removed to present very upmarket, multi­coloured underpants.

I hope that these extraordinary goings ­on do not trigger a craze for similar entertainments.

From a purely musical point of view, though, there was much that was thoroughly worthwhile in a performance that maintained focus, momentum and good humour on the part of soprano Penny Shaw despite having to contend with less­than­ideal performing conditions. And not even Tommaso Pollio’s burlesque­type antics could detract from commendably focussed vocal artistry.

Throughout, Shaw reached out to the audience with excellent diction and a delightful sense of humour. But I’d very much have liked to listen to this recital without maddening sonic intrusions –

doef­doef thumping (from some distant rock band?) and irritating machinery noise (could this have been from the air conditioners?) – and a busily fidgeting photographer nearby.

Penny Shaw has a voice that projects confidently and meaningfully – and it is complemented by Pollio’s profoundly musical presence at the keyboard.

There was also a jolly music quiz in which three brave concertgoers volunteered to take part as contestants, sparking a good deal of merriment from both participants and audience, the former offered Lindt chocolates in bright red wrappers.

I can’t recall such uncomfortable seats – bare planks! ­ since attending Pagel’s Circus in Cape Town when I was about 8 years old.

Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra

Hale School Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

HernShuan Hern Lee is not yet thirteen years old, yet his skill at the piano is suggestive of a pianist decades older. I listened in astonishment to his account of the Piano Concerto No 1 by Tchaikowsky. This formidably taxing work has been the graveyard of more than a few pianists’
reputations ­ but not on this occasion as the 12­ year­ old navigated a consistently impressive way through this most treacherous of Tchaikowsky’s concertos.

Impeccable memory, an unflagging beat and consistent clarity were, for the most part, entirely in keeping with the work’s requirements. Certainly, this young pianist made the auditorium’s Stuart concert grand piano sound better than anyone else I can recall playing it over the years. The demanding cadenza was a tour de force.

On the evidence of this performance, this precocious young man is clearly set on the right path in musical terms. I look forward to listening to his remarkable playing again.

Throughout, Christopher Dragon presided over the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra which responded with a will to his direction – but evident throughout the performance were worrying lapses in intonation. The importance of secure pitch is crucial and more care needs to be invested in this requirement in rehearsal and presentation. An improvement in this area can only prove
beneficial.

Earlier, we listened to one of Tchaikowsky’s early symphonies. As in the concerto, it was clear that each and every musician was focussed on doing the best job possible; it pulsed with sincerity – but again, insecure intonation was ever­present.

Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano)

WAAPA Music Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

To listen to Geoffrey Lancaster at the fortepiano is to travel back in time when Mozart and Haydn reigned supreme. It is impossible to praise too highly the artistry of this exceptional interpreter.

Geoffrey Lancaster 1With a complete physical command of the instrument and an intellect that is as impressive as his digital skill at the keyboard, Lancaster was at his awesome best on Thursday.

For those who consider, say, Walter Gieseking as the last word in Mozart interpretation, Lancaster’s approach may well provoke a raised eyebrow or two. Gieseking, of course, played on a modern piano in a 20th-century style. Lancaster, on the other hand, makes magic on the sort of instrument for which Mozart wrote his keyboard works.

And a lifetime’s investment in performance practice of the classical era has paid golden dividends both for Lancaster and those who have the good fortune to listen to him in action. I wonder if there is – anywhere – a fortepianist of higher accomplishment than Lancaster. His playing is frankly magical, abounding in subtleties of tone and rhythm that draw us ineluctably into Mozart’s rarefied world.

As ever and in accordance with performance practice of the era, each sonata was prefaced by an improvisatory-type flourish.

What are the chances, I wonder, of Lancaster being invited to play the complete keyboard sonatas of Mozart in Perth? I imagine it would be standing room only.

Bravissimo!

Magellan

Margaret Blades (violin), Michael Goldschlager (cello), Faith Maydwell (piano)

Robert Braham Auditorium, Trinity College

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

This was chamber music programming with a difference. Instead of what one would normally have expected – two, perhaps three, complete works for piano trio – we were offered only one work in toto – Arensky’s Trio in D minor. This was played after the interval. But the first half, most unusually, consisted of a selection of movements from a number of trios by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Dvorak. The last mentioned was represented by movements 1, 2 and 6 from his famous Dumky Trio.

 

Magellan

Magellan

Of Brahms, I heard the opening movement of his Trio opus 9 (which I listened to with an ear pressed to a crack in the door as I arrived a few minutes after the concert began). As well, there was the andante con moto tranquillo from Mendelssohn’s Trio in D minor.

 

On paper, this would have seemed a recipe for muddled musicmaking – a bit of this, a bit of that. Sonic fruit salad. But it must be conceded that, despite these reservations, the compilation made for most pleasant listening, especially the Dumky movements, the mournful essence of which came across in a consistently meaningful way. A Mendelssohn movement was finely considered.

 

Chief focus of the afternoon, though – and the concert’s most rewarding listening – was an account of Arensky’s Piano Trio in D minor, its shifting moods a challenge which the players met with consistently musical finesse. Adding to the pleasure of the presentation were the impressively fine acoustics of the venue..

 

Visually, the Robert Braham Auditorium is a quite ordinary looking space but its acoustics make it special. I understand that expert opinion was sought to achieve this – and the result is impressive. And there’s also a first rate baby grand Fazioli piano at which Faith Maydwell was a consistently meaningful player. Apart from a need for rather more tonal presence from the violin, fine synchronisation, tempi choices that invariably sounded right – and excellent grasp of style – combined to provide musicmaking that gave a good deal of listening pleasure.

 

At this venue, on 2nd November at 2:30pm, Magellan presents a program of music from the 20th century and beyond – Ravel, Shostakovich, Martin and Kats-Chernin.

 

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