Tag Archives: Beethoven

Daniel Kossov (violin)

Timothy Young (piano)

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Beethoven’s Sonata in A, opus 47 is one of the most powerfully dramatic works in the repertoire for violin and piano. Better known as the Kreutzer Sonata, it was dedicated to violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer who is nowadays most remembered for his villainously taxing violin studies and who never got round to playing Beethoven’s masterpiece.

Its seething emotions have triggered creativity in others: Janacek’s String Quartet No 1 is subtitled The Kreutzer Sonata – and famed Russian writer Leo Tolstoy gave the name to his famous short story about murderous jealousy.

koss

The Beethoven work was far and away the most satisfying offering in a recital by Daniel Kossov (making a welcome return visit to the city) and Timothy Young whose artistry at the keyboard makes him constantly in demand as a piano partner.

The Kreutzer Sonata doesn’t often appear on recital programs. Its unforgiving difficulties call for a cool head, an iron nerve and the stamina of an Olympic athlete. On all counts, Kossov and Young came up trumps, not least in relation to tonal balance which had not been as equitable as one would have hoped in the first half of the program in which at times, piano tone was too dominant in relation to the violin line. But in the Beethoven sonata, the duo could not be faulted on these grounds.

The imperiousness and virility that are the essence of much of the first movement came across strongly notwithstanding the occasional flaw. But then, who climbs Mount Everest without stubbing a toe on the way?

Musicianship of high order informed every measure of the slow movement. The light-hearted buoyancy of variation one was gauged to a nicety and the near-ethereal, finely spun trills that are the prevailing feature of the concluding variation could hardly have been bettered.

In the finale, the duo brought unflagging, spring-heeled fleetness to some of the most treacherous measures the master ever wrote. This was, in the best sense, a wild ride in which the smallest miscalculation could have brought the performance to grief but from which both Kossov and Young emerged with honour intact to a storm of deserved applause.

A fascinating compilation included that rarity: Hindemith’s eminently approachable Sonata in E flat from opus 11. In less than expert hands, the first movement can wither embarrassingly on the vine. Not so here, in a reading that allowed extroversion on the part of the piano and the violin’s lyrical, emotionally probing line to register strongly on the consciousness. I particularly liked the piano’s simulation of a tolling bell in the second movement and the eeriness of mood summoned up by the violin.

Dvorak’s engagingly melodious and folksy Sonatina in G was disappointing with violin tone often far too discrete and piano tone overbearing suggesting that at the opening of the recital neither musician had taken the full measure of the venue’s acoustics.

But a bracket of rarities by Aaron Copland was pure delight. Here, there was fine internal tonal balance in two arrangements for violin and piano of extracts from the score of cowboy ballet Billy the Kid: the Waltz with its quaintly wistful charms and Celebration, memorable for its whining double stopping and jazzy measures from the piano, both pieces preceded by a quite exquisitely dreamlike Nocturne.

Collectors of music trivia might be interested to know that both Copland and Billy were born in New York’s Brooklyn.

As encore, we heard Dvorak’s evergreen Humoresque.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn


Noeleen Wright (cello) Cecilia Sun (fortepiano)

Eileen Joyce Studio

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Cello and piano recitals are rare in Perth. And all-Beethoven programs that pay the closest attention to the stylistic minutiae of the period are rarer still. So this presentation was listened to with particular interest.

Noeleen Wright has devoted years of thought and practice to resurrecting the performing styles of bygone periods, notably the baroque era. I cannot recall hearing her before in music of Beethoven.

With Wright playing on a copy of an early-18th-century cello, with Cecilia Sun at the fortepiano, we were taken on a journey back in time as we listened to music as it might have sounded in Beethoven’s day.

With a bow dipped in the stuff of high inspiration and drawn with unfailing confidence across gut strings – and with Sun’s aauthoritative if occasionally error-strewn support on the fortepiano (a copy of a Viennese model of 1806) – we heard three of Beethoven’s sonatas – opus 5 no 1, opus 69 and opus 102 no 2.

I cannot recall hearing Wright to better advantage. In a presentation that bristled with authority, she gave point and meaning to some of the most elusive music in the canon.

At its most assertive, this was playing that was in the best sense tough-minded – passionate even – with, at times, a grainy, gruff tone quality that sounded entirely right as it brought the works’ more extrovert movements to pulsing life. This intensity of expression was only occasionally paralleled in the fortepiano part in playing that tended to take up an interpretative position some little distance from the emotional epicentre of the keyboard part as in the Rondo from opus 5 no 1 where the insouciant nature of the writing was most apparent in the cello line.

In that most ferociously demanding of movements – the fugal finale to opus 102 no 2 – both Wright and Sun emerged at its conclusion with musical honour intact. This was no mean musical achievement.

Copyright 2005 Neville Cohn


Chamber Made

University of W.A.Music Society
Octagon Theatre

 

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

 

Beethoven grew to detest his Septet in E flat. Its huge popularity during his lifetime greatly irked the crotchety composer who felt that the insatiable public demand for the piece tended to sideline what Beethoven felt were worthier works of his. How similarly Rachmaninov would feel years later about his Prelude in C sharp minor from his opus 3; his idea of heaven, he once said bitterly, was anywhere where his Prelude was NOT played.

Nowadays, Beethoven’s Septet is rarely heard but it certainly deserves an occasional airing. And even if performing standards by some of the senior members of UWA’s School of Music as well as the W.A.Symphony Orchestra wavered at times, at its best, the presentation went a long way to revealing the inherently sunny nature of the score.

This was most apparent in the Theme and Variations and the following Scherzo where sparkling, nimble violin playing from Paul Wright and quality contributions from Darryl Poulsen (horn), Noeleen Wright (cello) and Peter Moore (bassoon) conveyed the seemingly endless melodic, occasionally quirky, nature of the writing. And I dare say that most pianists in the audience would have recognised the Septet’s minuet movement that also found its way into Beethoven’s engaging piano sonata in G from opus 49.

Mezzo soprano Fiona Campbell was one of the evening’s stars, her account of Benjamin Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies given magical treatment. With Roger Smalley an unfailingly adept, stylish partner at the piano, an audience that filled the Octagon almost to capacity was able to savour how gloriously the early potential of Ms Campbell’s voice is being realised.

Whether gently lulling listeners in A Cradle Song, expressing more than a little maternal exasperation in A Charm or caressing the ear with a faultlessly essayed unaccompanied closing phrase in The Nurse’s Song, this mezzo soprano turned everything she sang into musical gold.

And of a bracket of lieder by Mozart, it is Abendempfindung that lingers in the memory, not least for the skill with which both singer and pianist evoked its introspective beauty. Here, Campbell’s ability to shape a legato phrase and clothe it in sumptuous, velvet-smooth tone was stunning.

Ms Campbell included a linking commentary which, one felt, was gilding the lily. This remarkable singer’s performances are so meaningful and her stage presence so congenial that the addition of spoken commentary is superfluous and detracts from the overall impact of the presentation.

Earlier, we heard the first performance of Roger Smalley’s Three Studies in Black and White played on the piano by Emily Green-Armytage who, in recent years, has made a specialty of new-music performances which have revealed her, whether as soloist or ensemble player, as a pianist with a rare flair for contemporary music.

She presented Smalley’s triple decker with immense authority, especially Gamelan for the left hand. This is a powerful essay, much of it evocative of the Indonesian percussion instruments from which it draws its title. A good deal of it is couched in darkly strident, booming terms, with skilled use of the damper pedal creating clouds of tone that floated into the auditorium.

Moto Perpetuo is an interesting addition to the pitifully small repertoire for the right hand. Here, Green-Armytage sounded in her element, with abrupt little arabesques and sustained trills to hold the interest. This is an acid test for any pianist wishing to demonstrate the prowess of his or her right hand. The third study – Dialogue – is for both hands, music that oscillates between toughness and lyricism.

© 2005


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

It was a study in contrasts: an account of a symphony at a level that critics dream about but seldom encounter in reality – and a concerto performance that buttressed the view that orchestral direction should, in many cases, be left to a conductor, allowing soloists to function purely in that capacity in order to be able to give undivided attention to the solo line.

If, due to some magical form of time travel that would have enabled Mozart to be present at this performance of his ‘Paris’ Symphony, I would have been surprised had the ACO’s account failed to win the Salzburg Master’s approval.

Here was a performance to savour with its meticulous attention to fine detail, tempi that seemed entirely appropriate, unfailingly musical phrasing and corporate tone that, with the use of period – or period-copy – instruments, would have made the composer feel entirely and comfortably at home. Certainly, for concertgoers not accustomed to the sound of a period wind choir and valveless horns of the time, this might well have been revelatory.

This was an excceptional account; I hung on every note. If ever a justification for the existence of an ensemble such as the ACO was needed, then it lay in the keeping of this splendid offering.

There were no microphones in evidence at this concert so this extraordinarily fine reading is lost to posterity. Has thought been given to the ACO embarking on a complete recording of Mozart’s symphonies? If this account of the ‘Paris’ is anything to go by, it’s an idea that ought to be seriously entertained.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor made for less satisfying listening, the chief reservation stemming from direction of the accompanying orchestra that was not always as felicitous as it might ideally have been.

The solo violin line is cruelly demanding; it calls for unremitting focus on the job in hand. And whether the soloist, who has a great deal to think about and do in this concerto, is the ideal person to take on the added burden of directing an orchestra playing a tricky score, is debatable. Occasionally – inevitably, perhaps, with such an arrangement – the orchestra had to be left to its own devices – and at other moments, the assistant concertmaster helped out by waving her bow, in lieu of a baton, at the musicians.

Had the soloist, however, been able to focus purely on the solo line while another was able to give undivided attention to anticipating the requirements of the soloist, the result might well have been that much more satisfying overall.

Also on the program was Beethoven’s Symphony No 7.

Copyright 2005 Neville Cohn


Dejan Lazic (piano)

Art Gallery of W.A.

reviewed by Neville Cohn

If there had been disappointment at pianist Dejan Lazic’s first appearance in Perth (in ensemble with the Kuss Quartet) due to less than flattering acoustics, he scaled Olympus at his solo recital days later, a many-splendoured affair that crowned a fortnight of performances in PIAF’s Wigmore Chamber Music series.

An all-Beethoven first half offered Variations on God Save the King of which Lazic made much with kaleidoscopic tonal colourings and a lift to the phrase that would surely have coaxed even the most taciturn bird from a twig.

This curtainraising delight gave way to Beethoven on a considerably loftier plain. Here, Lazic proved himself a poet of the piano, exploring, with the instincts of a born musician, the subtleties that make opus 110 the towering achievement that it is. I cannot readily recall so satisfying a reading.

Whether floating dandelion-delicate figurations into the auditorium, producing exquisite pianissimo shadings or giving point and meaning to some of the most elusive fugal writing in the repertoire, Lazic was master of the moment. True, there was some blurring in the opening moments of the second movement but, in relation to the performance as a whole, this reduces to the status of a quibble.

Liszt’s piano music occupies a very different world to that of Beethoven but Lazic was no less at home in it, not least in Canzone where extended, near-perfectly spun trills were only one of a myriad features that made magic of the music. Gondoleria, with its extravagant flourishes, can so easily descend into schmaltz so it is much to his credit that Lazic ignored the temptation to succumb to vulgarity, instead giving an account that was in the best sense bravura but invariably within the bounds of good taste.

The Tarantella, given astoundingly virtuosic treatment, provided incontrovertible evidence that for sheer digital nimbleness and accuracy at top speed, Lazic is better than most and second to few. And the lightness of touch that informed much of the playing here was a fine foil for the very much grittier works of Bartok.

In Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm from Mikrokosmos, Lazic proved himself a worthy interpreter, seeming positively to relish the challenge of tricky metrical gear changes that have defeated many a lesser pianist. And Bartok’s Three Rondos, with their jarring dissonances leavened by moments of gentle insight made for bracing listening, too.

As encores, Lazic played two Chopin waltzes. The so-called Minute Waltz could hardly be faulted, with rapid passagework like strings of perfectly matched pearls. But in the no-less-celebrated Waltz in E minor, opus posthumous this young pianist showed signs of tiredness; this was as a good a point as any to bring the curtain down on the recital as well on as on PIAF’s Wigmore Chamber Music series.

Before the recital and during the interval, concertgoers were able to view three paintings by Edvard Munch, typically redolent of the Norwegian painters sombre view of life, as well as what seemed a yellow floor stain but which turned out to be Wolfgang Laib’s Pollen from Hazelnut.

Copyright 2005 Neville Cohn