Sokolov: The Salzburg Recital

Grigory Sokolov (piano)

TPT: 109’ 02”

DGG 479 4342 (2CD)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


COVER Gregory Sokolov - The Salzburg RecitalLike those two great pianists of an earlier era – Dame Myra Hess in the UK and Leopold Godowsky in the USA – Grigory Sokolov finds studio recordings enormously stressful. As well, Sokolov, more often than not, vetoes the commercial release of recordings of his public performances. But once in a very long while, he might give the nod to a release of a particular recital recording. Happily, this has been the case in relation to his 2008 Salzburg performance. Understandably, there’s been huge interest in the recording.


In the opening movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata K280, the playing seems an instance of profound communion between pianist and composer. There are no stylistic oddities here, no grandstanding – just utter stylistic honesty. The slow Siciliano movement, in particular, is given a beautifully considered performance. The finale, too, is a delight, coming across with an aerial buoyancy, a lightness of touch and a delicious insouciance, It’s a perfect assessment of the music as is Sokolov’s account of K 332..


Chopin’s opus 28 – the 24 Preludes – is the musical equivalent of an Ali Baba’s treasure cave. Here, it is presented as if to the manner born. Listen to Prelude No 1 with its glorious lift to the phrase, each a gem of expressiveness. Prelude 2 comes across as the epitome of sadness and regret – and Prelude 3 is presented as a wondrously buoyant will-o’-the-wisp.


Prelude 4 in E minor, massacred by legions of well-intentioned children at eisteddfodau, is here a  deeply  meaningful utterance  and Prelude 5 comes across as an outburst of pure joy. In Prelude 6 in B minor, Sokolov plumbs a deep well of melancholy.


In Chopin’s famous Prelude 7 in A, Sokolov brings freshness to familiar notes. And the cruelly difficult Prelude 8 in F sharp minor comes across with breathtaking fluency; it’s a mini-marvel of fabulously fine, faultless fingerwork in the right hand.


Prelude 9 is pure enchantment – and Prelude 12 is masterly, flashing into enchanted life.


Prelude13 is offered as a touchingly introspective nocturne; it’s a model offering. And the outer sections of Prelude 15 – the much loved ‘Raindrop Prelude’ – come across in a movingly expressive way, a perfect foil for implacable repeated notes in the central section with their suggestion of a mournful, tolling bell.


Is there a more viciously difficult Prelude than No 16 in B flat minor? It’s been the graveyard of more than a few pianistic reputations. But in this brutally demanding piece, Sokolov reveals himself an Olympian keyboard athlete with near flawlessly accurate left hand leaps and astonishingly rapid fingerwork in the right hand. Bravo!


In Prelude18 in F minor, Sokolov’s playing is intensely dramatic, the more so for its subtle rubato. A beautifully considered, lyrical melody line in Prelude 19 is etched against a background of accompanying notes – and the famous, doomladen funeral march that is Prelude 20 is a model of solemnity. Sokolov brings a profoundly lyrical quality to Prelude 21.


In Prelude 22 – curiously – there’s a departure from the impeccable taste that informs almost all the rest of opus 28. Rubato is strangely excessive here.


Prelude 23, on the other hand, is in exquisite taste with gently glowing tone and subtleties that make this one of the chief joys of the set.


Prelude 24 is lacking in drama  – and surely needing greater intensity of attack?


Encores include Scriabin’s Poeme opus 69 no 1, magically insightful with gorgeous, glowing tone.


There’s more Chopin: the Mazurka opus 68 no 2 given an exquisitely poignant reading. Trills are perfectly spun.  There‘s also an achingly beautiful account of the Mazurka opus 63 no 3 – and wondrous trills and an aerial lightness elevate Sokolov’s account of Rameau’s Les Sauvages to the heights.


Bach’s Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ is like a benediction; it calls to mind the playing of Dame Myra Hess: there is no greater praise.

Island Songs


Amy Dickson (saxophone)

Sydney Symphony Orchestra

TPT: 60’ 13”

ABC Classics 481 1703

reviewed by Neville Cohn


COVER_Amy_Dickson_-_Island_Songs_masterTo listen to the music of Peter Sculthorpe is to be drawn instantly into a unique sound and mood world  – and this is exquisitely apparent in his Island Songs, one of his last scores and written expressly for saxophonist extraordinaire Amy Dickson.


Calling an enchanted conch shell to mind, Dickson’s opening statement draws one ineluctably into Sculthorpe’s imaginative sound environment with the saxophone line beautifully set off by dark-toned utterances from the strings of Sydney Symphony Orchestra.


Finely scored percussion provides an intriguing counter-argument to a lulling, nostalgia-drenched solo line.


Song of Home is followed by a slowly unfolding, hushed account of Lament and Yearning. Avian twitterings  remind one of the composer’s enduring love of, and nostalgia for, the remoteness of outback Australia with which he identified so profoundly.


Here, every superfluous sound is scrupulously removed, the antithesis of, say, a good deal of the music of Mendelssohn, so often expressed in seemingly endless streams of rapid semiquavers. Not here, though. This is an exercise in which the least says the most, where less is more and there’s not a superfluous sound, each note carefully considered like precious gemstones, each immaculately positioned and set.

A drum tap here, a gentle harp utterance there, a cello’s deep, velvety note.


Benjamin Northey takes the SSO through an impeccable accompaniment.


Brett Dean’s The Siduri Dances is fascinating fare with saxophone flourishes that call bursts of fireworks to mind – and brief arabesques that evoke images of some inspired dance activity. Dickson is in impressive form, not least in virtuosic passages which she offers in flawless taste. Benjamin Northey presides over events, coaxing a lightly coloured accompaniment from the SSO, ideal for both the work’s more reflective moments and high-register, chatter-box virtuosity from the soloist.


A lengthy unaccompanied solo comes across with beautifully controlled tone, followed by what might be thought of as a frenetic conversation between voluble birds. Here, Dickson triumphs in a score replete with traps for all but the most adept and secure of soloists.


In Full Moon Dances, a concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra, Ross Edwards gives us a work to cherish, much of it couched in exquisitely gentle terms.


Are those castanets in the distance?  Delightfully light-textured instrumentation with gentle gong-like sounds present a fine background for Dickson’s very slowly unfolding saxophone line.


Sanctus comes across in a gentle, quiet way, the players sounding as if drawing on the same reservoir of inspiration. The saxophone line whether tonally assertive or quietly introspective is played as if to the manner born. It comes across like a gentle benediction.


An irresistibly delightful, dance-like movement that oscillates between cheerful  insouciance and quiet reserve completes the work. There’s excellent work on cello here.


Miguel Harth-Bedova takes the SSO through a finely supportive accompaniment.


All in all, archetypal Edwards at his most persuasive. There’s a storm of applause at the close of this ‘live’ recording.


On the evidence of this fine recording, it is clear that Amy Dickson is a worthy successor to Peter Clinch who did so much to raise standards and expectations of fine performances on an instrument heard still far too infrequently in a concerto context.   –



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





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.


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.




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.