A Winter Musical Feast
Perth Modern School Auditorium
reviewed by Neville Cohn
This was a splendid feast of fine music as, in the happiest of arts re-unions, former stalwarts of the Conservatorium of Music returned, too briefly, from their homes in Hungary, the United States and Canberra, to re-create the sort of chamber music excellence that was the norm for Perth in those halcyon days.
But the pleasure of listening to this high-level musicmaking was tempered by the realisation that shortsightedness on the part of those who directed the destiny of the Conservatorium of Music at the time deprived not only the city’s concertgoing community of an abundance of musical riches but, sadder still, Perth’s tertiary music students – our professional soloists, orchestral players and teachers of the future – of musical guidance beyond price. Certainly, since the disbanding of the Stirling String Quartet, Perth has not had a resident ensemble of this sort – and it is the poorer for it.
Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A (to mark the centenary of the composer’s death in 1904) was given the sort of treatment that made one hope it was being recorded for posterity. Some minor blemishes aside, here was a performance in which each of the participants took up an interpretative position at the emotional and stylistic epicentre of the music. John Roberts was in magnificent form, drawing on a splendid range of tonal colourings with comparable contributions from husband-and-wife violinists Pal Eder and Erika Toth as well as Alan Bonds (viola) and Suzanne Wijsman (cello).
One of the most satisfying offerings came in a superbly assured account – for two pianos and percussion – of Gershwin’s An American in Paris. If the composer’s shade had hovered over the proceedings as pianists John and Jean Roberts in ensemble with Gary France, that portly wizard of the mallets and parping automibile horns, made an inspired way through this most idiosyncratic of American scores, it would surely have saluted artistry of the highest order. I’d gladly have listened to it all over again.
Music of a very different sort came in the form of the W.A.premiere of Perth composer Sandra France’s 3 Miniatures for Piano Trio, presented by Eder and Wijsman with Jean Roberts at the piano. This made for thoroughly agreeable listening.
Although the compositional devices and procedures resorted to – such as placing a writing pad over the strings of the piano or plucking them with the fingers – are hardly novel, the overall effect was agreeably engaging. The pieces came across as absorbing little essays about the darker emotions.
There is a violently argumentative quality to You’re Sitting on My Thoughts. The cello line in Playing in the Shadows is informed by a mood that is both sinister and melancholy, an atmosphere reinforced by eerie, high-register harmonics in ensemble with plucked piano strings. And in Stravinsky’s Book, violent pizzicati sound as if ripped from the violin and cello while the paper-damped piano strings produce a strangely spectral range of sound.
There were also miniatures for violin and piano by Tchaikowsky and Kreisler in which Eder was partnered by pianist Pauline Belviso, both breathing fresh life into these rather tired, encore-type bonbons, music that can so easily lapse into schmaltz. I’m happy to report, however, that in their use of rubato and lift to the phrase, Eder and Belviso gave us a performance of impeccable taste. As well, we heard Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E flat, K493 with Jean Roberts in top form in the important keyboard part.
Other musical delights in miniature were Koechlin’s Four Little Pieces for Horn Trio, a slight but charming quartet of musical frivolities given most pleasingly musical treatment by Darryl Poulsen (horn), Jean Roberts at the piano and Erika Toth who was visually striking in an unusual black and mauve jodhpur-style trouser suit.
Copyright Neville Cohn 2004