Tag Archives: Perth Concert Hall

“Titan”

W.A.Youth Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

 

 

Mahler’s massive Symphony No 1 is a challenge to even the most experienced of professional orchestras. How, I wondered, would an ensemble of young people, nearly all still in their teens, fare in traversing one of the toughest and most exhausting of all orchestral terrains?

 

 

 

 

Let it be said at once that for sheer commitment, this young orchestra deserves laurels. And Christopher van Tuinen’s calm podium presence and steady beat did wonders in coaxing a unified response from his forces, no small achievement considering the relative inexperience of the players and the many challenges the score poses. No less to WAYO’s credit, was the particularly meaningful contribution of the brass section which, more often than not, brought a professional sheen to its playing. Tempi were finely judged throughout and, crucially, the shifting moods of the work were evoked with more than ordinary skill.

 

I listened with pleasure to the playing of Joel Bass, winner of the 2012 Woodside Concerto Competition.

 

Hovhaness’ Fantasy on Japanese Woodcuts is not for timid soloists. It is villainously treacherous and requires way-above- average skill with the mallets and an iron nerve to negotiate its intricacies – and this Bass did with professional aplomb. There was not a dull moment in a performance I cannot too highly praise not only the physical command this young musician brought to everything he played but his remarkable ability to reveal the demon that lurks behind the concerto’s tidal waves of notes. Throughout, van Tuinen took the WAYO through an accompaniment which was finely gauged to not only accommodate each subtlety of the solo part but also the challenges posed by the score. Bravo!

 

credit: Jon Green 

Mozart’s overture to The Marriage of Figaro was less uniformly persuasive. Certainly, the strings needed a more uniform tonal sheen. But this should not discourage the orchestra from tackling more works of the classical era which might to advantage figure more prominently in WAYO’s programs. They require a disciplined focus, the practice of which can only be to the long-term advantage of the orchestra.

Piers Lane (piano) with W.A.Symphony Orchestra

                       

Perth Concert Hall                                           

and in recital at

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

In one of the most compelling performances from the W.A.Symphony Orchestra this year, it became again abundantly clear that when the right person is on the conductor’s podium, the orchestra is capable of formidable feats. With Czech-born Jakub Hrusa presiding over events, the WASO strings were wonderfully on their mettle in the overture to Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. Absolute clarity, accuracy at high speed and buoyant momentum brought this listener to the edge of his seat. Later, we heard Piers Lane in top form as he brought infallible fingers and unflagging energy to what came across as unusually macho Mozart.

 

I’ve not before heard the Piano Concerto K482 (or any other by Mozart for that matter) given such virile treatment. It is one of Mozart’s most brutally demanding piano scores – and Lane, firing on all musical pistons, was more than up to the challenge. This was as far from the Dresden-china-delicate, tinkle-finger school of Mozart piano playing as one could imagine. This was heroic, robust stuff that in less than assured hands might well have sounded grotesquely inappropriate. It’s a measure of Lane’s superlative musicality and musicianship that he brought it off in so triumphant a way. And the peekaboo insouciance that informed the finale was a delicious contrast to what had gone before. Bravo!

 

Woodwind and brass choirs were quite rightly given special acknowledgement at concerto’s end.

 

An account of Dvorak’s Noonday Witch was less uniformly satisfying; it lacked the  energy and precision that had informed the Smetana performance. However, in Janacek’s Taras Bulba, which Hrusa conducted from memory (as was the Dvorak work), the initiative was retrieved in a way that ensured that the inherent turbulence of the score was evoked to splendid effect. Anguish, terror and horror are the emotional building blocks of the score and how effectively Hrusa and the WASO brought that home to the listener as one massive climax after the other was hurled into the auditorium.

 

On Sunday, Piers Lane came to Government House Ballroom. Whether in so hackneyed a piece as Mendelssohn’s Bee’s Wedding or enchanting the ear with a series of waltzes by Schubert – how rarely these little gems figure in recitals these days – Lane was at the top of his game with flawless fingerwork and an intuitive grasp of style.

 

Brahms’ gigantic Sonata in F minor is not for timid pianists. It requires fearless fingers, great feats of memorisation and endurance to stay the course – and on all three counts Lane was beyond reproach. In the opening allegro maestoso, he negotiated ferociously difficult chordal leaps with majestic aplomb – and in the sonata’s more introspective moments, he mined the music for all its intimate subtleties. Lane did wonders, too, in navigating a sure way through the goblinesque moments of the scherzo.

 

Apart from the ubiquitous Bee’s Wedding, the second of the group of Mendelssohn Songs Without Words was lovingly fashioned, with a warm-toned legato line to staccato accompaniment. It was one of the gems of the afternoon.

 

Of a bracket of Chopin Nocturnes, I particularly admired opus 15 no 1 in F; the melancholy beauty of its outer sections was impeccably essayed – and in the central episode Lane did wonders with its churning figurations. In the Nocturne in D flat from opus 27, which is some of Chopin’s most deeply probing music, Lane responded with an answering depth of feeling and the sort of cantabile tone that would surely have tempted even the grumpiest bird from a twig.

 

Not the least of the pleasures of this recital was Lane’s linking commentary at which he is so inordinately skilled. He is one of the very few musicians who does this sort of thing very well unlike so many others whose progress to the microphone is observed with a sinking feeling.

 

Lane romped through Schulz-Evler’s excruciatingly difficult take on Strauss’ Blue Danube and then brought the house down with Dudley Moore’s riotously funny Beethoven spoof played on the Ballroom’s magnificent new Fazioli grand piano.

 

Present at this packed-out and noisily appreciative recital were Mr Fazioli, head of the famous Italian piano-building family – and the Governor of Western Australia and Mrs Michael who cut the bright yellow ribbon wrapped around the piano before the recital began. 

 

By any standards, this Fazioli instrument is a magnificent piano and just the sort that’s needed for the increasingly frequent concerts given at this venue. It was altogether appropriate that the honour of ‘christening’ the piano was given to Lane, one of our most cherished musicians.


W.A.Youth Orchestra

 

Perth Concert Hall

 

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

I came to the Concert Hall on Saturday evening wondering to what effect the W.A. Youth Orchestra would engage with Stravinsky’s Rite of  Spring. This is one of the 20th century’s most complex and demanding scores, a work that even the most experienced of fulltime, professional orchestral players needs to approach with caution. It is a score that constantly challenges the players. Its rhythmic complexities are like a musical minefield; there is danger at every turn. And there can be no passengers in a work such as this. Total concentration is essential to avoid this musical enterprise from finishing on the rocks.

 

A one-hundred-strong WAYO (with more than fifty of its players aged 19 years or more) came through this protracted ordeal with banners flying high.

 

Performances like this don’t just happen. There would have been a gruelling preparation for this performance, with the WAYO musicians fronting up to rehearsals that ran from 10am to 4pm from the Monday to the Friday preceding the performance as well as during Saturday morning at the Concert Hall. There would also have had to be intensive preliminary study of the score and dedicated supervision by tutors to come up with a result as meaningful as this.

 

All this investment of time and skill paid handsome musical dividends.

 

Tze Law Chan presided over events, taking his young charges through a reading that most effectively evoked the powerfully atavistic nature of Stravinsky’s barrier-breaking score. Incidentally, at its first performance in Paris, the work (to choreography by Nijinsky) so infuriated the audience that the gendarmes had to be called to cope with the riot and fistfights that broke out in the theatre. Stravinsky was bundled into a hansom cab to distance himself from members of the audience who might have wanted to assault him – or worse.

 

There was also a performance of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto with Thomas Hecht as soloist. Apart from trivialising the keyboard flourishes in the opening moments of this most loved of piano concertos, the presentation was most impressive. Here was a reading that took up an interpretative position at the emotional epicentre of the concerto. Not the least of the pleasures of this account was the extraordinary range of tone colours that Hecht brought to his performance, so bringing freshness to familiar notes.

 

Hecht is blessed with near-infallible fingers; the slowly ascending trills in the slow movement were faultlessly spun. Throughout, wonderfully flexible wrists and an unflagging pace added to the overall impact of the performance. It was a tour de force to which the WAYO players responded with a consistently meaningful accompaniment.


Tokyo String Quartet

 

 

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

To listen to the Tokyo ensemble is akin to being ushered into the presence of musical demi-gods. These four superlative players have succeeded in subjugating their individuality in favour of a corporate music persona which, for decades, has enchanted audiences worldwide.

 

Tokyo String Quartet

Tokyo String Quartet

An account of Mendelssohn’s Quartet in A minor opus was a case in point, a glorious, flawless scaling of Olympus that left this listener groping for adjectives to convey the transcendental merit of the magnificent four.  

 

Most of this quartet is light years away from Mendelssohn’s trademark evocations of fairy fun. This is darker music by far, not least in the slow movement which was presented, with rich, organ-like sonorities, as a little miracle of profound expressiveness. Queen Victoria, a lifelong fan, once called Mendelssohn “a wonderful genius”. Could it have been this quartet which prompted that regal pat on the back?

 

Beethoven’s opus 95, his most compact utterance in chamber music, was given such superlative treatment as to be beyond criticism in the conventional sense. I dare say that had the shade of the notoriously tetchy composer hovered over the proceedings, it would surely have purred with pleasure. By even the most ferociously critical of standards, this, surely, was an interpretation that set the standard by which all other performances of the work would have to be judged.

 

Much the same could be said of Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade in which the four musicians, like some Midas-clones, transformed everything they touched in this amiable work to musical gold. Certainly, in the hands of the four, even the most routine succession of notes was transformed into a compelling listening experience.

 

Carl Vine’s Quartet no 5 is a work of many moods, ranging from the bleak to the jaunty. Early on, the music is informed by a romantic ardour that calls Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night to mind. At every point, the writing is informed by an engaging immediacy. It was beautifully played by the Tokyo Quartet in a performance which brimmed with subtle nuances of tone and tempo. I imagine that any composer would give eye teeth to have their music performed by so superb an ensemble; it was one of the evening’s many highlights.

 

In so democratic an institution as a string quartet, it is perhaps invidious to single out an individual for special mention. But it would be ungracious not to particularly praise the artistry of violist extraordinaire Kazuhide Isomura.  In the hands of this veteran of countless concerts, the viola, that most treacherous of string instruments, did his bidding beautifully as it sang for its master with a rare purity of pitch and tone.