Perth Concert Hall
review by Neville Cohn
I was surprised to read in the printed program that the WASO’s performance at the weekend of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy was the first time it has been played since 1972.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this near-half century absence from its programs is that the work is often thought of as little more than a trial run for Beethoven’s Symphony No 9. But for those with ears to hear, the Fantasy is a work of magnificence which deserves to be performed far, far more frequently than is the case.
Asher Fisch, who is as versatile as he is gifted, presided over events from the keyboard, seated at the piano with his back to the audience. As well, the piano lid had been removed to enable conductor, orchestra, and singers to see one another. But the vice of this virtue was that with the lid removed, piano sound was not as effectively directed into the auditorium so that Asch’s immensely authoritative playing was not heard to best advantage.
Laurels to both the choir and the vocal soloists. Their singing was of such high standard that for much of the performance, all that this critic needed to do was to sit back and savour each delightful moment.
I sincerely hope that Perth concertgoers won’t have to wait a near-half century before this magnificent opus is programmed again.
In Beethoven’s Ninth, Fisch and his forces were no less on their musical toes. Again and again in this work of high genius, one sensed the care lavished on fine detail both instrumental and vocal. Strings were spot-on. So, too, were bassoons and oboes in rising to the work’s many challenges. Throughout, Fisch allowed the music to speak for itself, never imposing himself between audience and score, a trap into which so many lesser musicians fall.
I particularly liked the buoyant, jovial character of the playing and not even fleeting moments during which woodwinds were not always synchronised with the rest of the orchestra, could detract from the delightful, dance-like character of the score.
There was crass, unwanted applause as the vocal soloists came on-stage just before the Adagio began. But would it not have been a more practical idea for the soloists to come onstage with the conductor, taking their seats before the performance began which would have avoided this unwanted interruption to the flow of the symphony?
It says much for the focus and professionalism of all concerned that, notwithstanding
this interruption to the proceedings, Fisch and his forces came up trumps again and again. The opening Allegro came across magnificently, allowing one, as ever, to marvel at the sonic miracle created by a man imprisoned in a terrifying world of utter silence. The scherzo, too, reached for the heights coming across as a jovial, stamping dance. And notwithstanding some crumpled horn notes, the adagio unfolded seamlessly.
In the awe-inspiring finale, trumpets did wonders – and there were wonderfully sonorous contributions from the lower strings.
WASO choristers: step forward and take a thoroughly deserved bow. This was one of the choir’s most meaningful moments; the polished, disciplined skill brought to the performance augurs well for upcoming concerts. As a quartet, the vocal soloists were in splendid accord, too. I particularly liked the contribution of bass soloist David Parkin who clothed each note he sang with frankly beautiful tone. Much the same could be said of Henry Choo who brought refinement and impeccable taste to everything he sang.
As a curtain raiser, we listened to Beethoven’s Namensfeier overture. Arguably the Master’s dullest offering, this was its first WASO outing since 1955.