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.

Franz Schubert

Death and the Maiden Quartet

“Unfinished” Symphony

Goldstone & Clemmow (piano duet)

Divine Art dda 25125 TTP: 73’55”

 

The Chamber Eroica

Symphony No 3 in E Flat (Beethoven)

Version for piano quartet

Metier msvcd 2008

TTP: 49’01”

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

SchubertSchubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet is one of the composer’s most loved and frequently heard works; it had its origins in Schubert’s lied of the same name. It is also a work of central significance in a famous play. But having over the years listened to too many indifferent arrangements of this and similar works in versions for piano duet, I was sceptical of this recent release.

 

I’m happy to say though that my doubts rapidly evaporated as I listened to this recording; it’s a version of excellence which I recommend warmly.

 

Its opening pages come across with immense authority. It makes for engrossing listening. The contrasts between lulling episodes and moments suggestive of stark terror are impeccably handled. I’d like to think that if Schubert himself had had the opportunity to listen to the Goldstone Duo, he’d have approved not only of the performance but of the very real skill invested in making this arrangement so approachable. Laurels, too, to the sound engineers who score high at every turn.

 

In the second movement, the duo is in top form, allowing the music to speak for itself by avoiding any tendency to excessive “expression” which can so easily ruin the moment. It’s a fine foil for the finale which is informed by high musicianship. Throughout, discreet but effective pedalling and buoyancy of momentum make this a model of good taste.

 

Whether or not Schubert felt that the two movements of his Unfinished Symphony were in and of themselves a complete statement and not needing the addition of other movements, will be haggled over interminably by music scholars.

 

What is clear about this recording is the excellence of the playing not least the quality of the secondo accompaniment which is, as is the primo part, a model of good taste. It’s a delightful musical outcome, the players reaching for the stars. The second movement, too, is a model of good taste.

 

Goldstone has transcribed the third movement from Schubert’s sketches. It’s beautifully done and fits the overall presentation like a glove. Some of Schubert’s incidental music for Rosamunde is drawn on for the finale. This is pleasant enough but, but for all the care lavished on it both and performance, it is not in the same league, substance-wise.

 

HOW INCONVENIENT  and irritating concertgoing must have been for music aficionados in, say, the early 1800s if they lived away from cities or large towns.

 

Eroica BeethovenIf they’d read about Mr Beethoven’s astonishing new symphonies in, say, the early years of the 19th century, how would they have been able to listen to these works unless they lived in a city with a resident orchestra or one or other amateur band?

 

No electricity, no radio, no recordings, no TV existed then – nor had they yet been dreamed of. So it became standard practice for composers – or others –  to arrange large scale works for much smaller ensembles which made these works far more portable than would than would otherwise have been the case.

 

Here, for instance, we listen to Beethoven’s Eroica symphony in an 1807 transcription for piano quartet. And while it is obviously impossible for four players to convey the sound and overall impact of a full orchestra, the arrangement is so clever and the playing so skilled that even the most demanding of concertgoers would, I think, feel compelled to agree that in the absence of a full orchestra, this performance is an  impressive alternative.

 

Throughout, the playing is masterly and satisfying – and the recording engineers have done a first rate job. It’s well worth a place in a good CD collection.

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.

Artemis Quartet

Mendelssohn String Quartets: No 2 (opus 13); No 3 (opus 44 No 1); No 6 (opus 80)

Erato 0825646366903

TPT: 87’ 41” (2 CD)

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

packshot artemisIn a more enlightened world than existed when Fanny – sister to Felix Mendelssohn – lived her tragically brief life, she’d have had far greater recognition as a composer than was the case in the mid-19th century. Women most certainly didn’t get a fair deal in those days. Indeed, to get her work into the public domain, Felix published some of his sister’s songs under HIS name! Apparently, that was just about the only practical way to get the songs known to the wider community.

 

But Felix and Fanny were not only siblings and very fine musicians. They were good friends  –  and when Fanny died, too early, her brother’s grief was overwhelming. He poured his sorrow into the writing of his string quartet opus 80 in F minor, one of his darkest works. And the Artemis musicians home in unerringly on its mournful essence. Certainly, it comes across with electrifying intensity.

 

There is about the music a barely controlled anguish, a breast-beating sense of bereavement. And in the second movement, bows bite strings to produce a grainy-toned, throbbing quality that sounds entirely right. In the adagio which follows, the Artemis ensemble is no less persuasive in evoking moods of hopelessness and despair.  I cannot imagine anyone failing to respond to this darkest of all Mendelssohn’s quartets which could be thought of as a requiem for Fanny.

 

From first note to last, the Artemis Quartet is entirely in sympathy with the work.

 

Mendelssohn’s Quartet No 3 in D occupies a very different mood world, much of it bracingly buoyant and rhythmically emphatic, as refreshing in its idiosyncratic way as a cold shower on a hot day. How convincingly and confidently the Artemis players draw the listener into the composer’s vibrant teenage world.  There’s a youthful audacity about the writing – and the Artemis musicians convey this with immense confidence and brio.