CONCERT W.A.Symphony Orchestra


Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn.


Cedric Tiberghien is a highly accomplished pianist. I recall with please his stunningly fine accounts of some of Messiaen’s most complex works at a Perth Festival some years ago. His flawless fingers are up to any challenge – and this was again very much the case in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 3. Only the most skilled of musicians would dare essay a work such as this in public. It’s a closed book to any but top-end virtuosos. Throughout, in purely physical terms, Tiberghien could not be faulted – but on this occasion, the presentation as a whole was something of a disappointment: the raging demon that lurks behind the printed note was here only fitfully apparent. And another distraction was the late arrival (just as the slow movement commenced) of numbers of late-comers. Swarming in as they headed for seats, often mid-row, there was much standing-up and sitting down by patrons already seated. All this demolished the gentle atmosphere of the concerto’s exquisite adagio. In the ferociously difficult finale, Tiberghien was at his thrilling, virtuosic best but again, taking up an interpretative position some distance from the emotional epicentre of the music. Throughout, Fisch took the WASO through an impeccable, finely supportive accompaniment.

There was an encore: Bach’s Prelude No 1 in C from Book 1 of Bach’s famous ”48”: it was a marvellous moment: a little miracle of gentle beauty.

Bartok’s music for orchestra can be, and often is, very challenging and tricky to bring off successfully. And that was certainly the case as Fisch took his players through the rhythmically complex Dance Suite to emerge from the maze with honour intact. Bassoon, trombone and tuba were much to the fore in the opening pages – and flutes were frankly delightful. And in the second movement, robust brass conjured up images of rough peasants energetically stamping away.  Abrasive, jubilant, ear-grating and glowering were adjectives that came to mind as Fisch and the WASO steered a splendid way through the suite. Bravo!

OPERA- Carmen (Bizet)


W.A.Opera Company and Chorus

His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Ian Westrip
Ian Westrip

More often than not in opera reviews, comments on the chorus are usually found towards the end of the commentary. But, if ever this group of singers deserves top billing, it’s the W.A. Opera Chorus. I cannot praise their contribution to Carmen too highly. Not only did they sing beautifully – a tribute to guest chorus master Ian Westrip’s detailed training – they were a crucial visual factor in Lindy Hume’s production. The boys’ chorus did particularly well, their mischievous taunting of the soldiers outside the cigarette factory very effective. The soldier choristers, too, were on the ball. Throughout the scene, choral co-ordination was frankly excellent.


Since cigarette smoking has, to an almost total extent, become a no-no in Australia – and this is something to be celebrated –  the Act 1 scene in which cigarette girls come outside the factory for a mid-morning fag or two might pose an ethical problem for some. If there are lit fags on stage, are some members of the audience likely to rush out at interval (or even mid-performance) to buy a packet of cigarettes for a hasty puff? I very much doubt it. This isn’t to suggest the chorus smokes real cigarettes while singing the famous song – but surely there are skills enough backstage to provide fake ciggies that look like the real thing – and stage smoke to enhance the impression even more.


As we’ve seen from Hume’s earlier productions of the work, she eschews glamour for its own sake. Verismo is well to the fore. The clothes of the locals look grubby and most of the men look down at heel. There aren’t any government pensions here. Reality is high on the production list and it is almost everywhere apparent – but not in the tavern scene where a ‘dancer’ turns around and around and around – and around. What can this mean? This is the sort of locale where the traditional dance  – flamenco – would be as natural an expression as breathing.  But the fight scene between Don Jose (Paul O’Neill) and Zuniga (Paull-Anthony Keightley) was effectively choreographed.


The sets are cleverly designed to underscore and enhance the action. The outside of the tobacco factory where Carmen works has a time-worn, tacky look – and that enhances the overall grubbiness of the area, reinforcing an overall impression of a rather rundown, neglected part of town.


Many  – most? – productions of Carmen still go to great pains to ensure the eponymous (anti?-heroine) comes across as the apotheosis of a Hollywood siren, a clone of a glamorously garbed Rita Hayworth. Not so here.  I recall one of Hume’s Carmen productions of more than 20 years ago in which I commented on Carmen coming across “as charming and mischievous rather than insolent and provocatively seductive”. Milijana Nikolic’s Carmen differs vastly, manner- and appearance-wise. Here is a characterisation that is utterly convincing, a Carmen who is a vulgar tease, a tough-as-nails type, a trouble-maker. It’s a performance that radiates reality.


How very different is Emma Pearson’s characterisation of Micaela. It was spot-on, Micaela’s inherent goodness beautifully evoked, the very antithesis of Carmen’s darkness. Here was a performance of utmost finesse, certainly the most moving I’ve encountered in the many Carmen productions I’ve attended over the last half-century and more. Bravo!


The W.A.Symphony Orchestra was directed with care by Antony Walker.

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson
Milijana Nikolic
Milijana Nikolic









  • All photos except, that of Ian Westrip, by James Rogers.









  • Due to illness – and much to my regret – I had to leave midway through the performance.

CONCERT Ray Chen (violin)  Julien Quentin (piano)


Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Julian Hargreaves
Credit:Julian Hargreaves

When Ray Chen puts bow to string, it instantly triggers memories of violin greats: Yehudi Menuhin, Heifetz, Elman in their prime. There is about his playing a seeming effortlessness, a lyricism that places him well to the forefront of the world’s current line-up of fiddle greats. The magic so gratifyingly in evidence when Chen gave a recital with Timothy Young here in Perth a few years ago, was no less splendidly in evidence on this occasion.


This was wondrously apparent in his account of Ysaye’s Sonata for solo violin in D minor. It’s from opus 23, one of a number of solo violin works which are ferociously difficult, no-man’s-land for any but the most skilled of fiddlers. I think of it as an extended, ruthlessly demanding cadenza – and in every sense, Chan was more than up to the challenge. Now lyrical, now passionate, the playing was informed by an immediacy that brought one face to face, as it were,  with the composer.


Matthew Hindson’s Violin Sonata No 1 – Dark Matter (2018) – has been given its world premiere performances on Chen and Quentin’s current Musica Viva tour. With an alert and very skilled Julien Quentin at the piano, we were taken into Hindson’s idiosyncratic musical world.


The Sonata is dedicated to the composer’s father who passed away shortly after the work was completed. In a program note, Hindson tells of his childhood years when he and his siblings were taken to violin lessons by their father, “learning the violin alongside us”. Much of the first movement is quiet – it comes across like a gentle, melancholy song, rather like a sad lullaby. In the second movement, virtuosity comes to the fore. Presented with considerable intensity, it’s an essay in passionate virtuosity.


Attributed to Vitali, the Chaconne in G minor was the perfect curtain raiser, those oh-so-well-known notes here sounding as fresh and beautiful as a flower just opened. And its moments of defiant power were no less impressively presented.


Whether gently introspective or passionately virtuosic, Chen and Quentin were much on their mettle in Franck’s too-frequently programmed Sonata in A – but not even intrusive, ignorant applause between movements could detract from the frankly stunning wizardry these two musicians brought to their offering. And then the duo gave us a sizzlingly virtuosic account of Ravel’s Tzigane. Bravissimo!



Perth Symphony Orchestra

Perth Town Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Jessica Gethin and PSOWhat would most office workers do when it’s time to leave for the day? I imagine some might head for a drink at the nearest watering hole or perhaps do some hurried shopping for dinner before walking to a train station, bus stop or parking garage to head home. But the people who run Perth Symphony Orchestra came up with another possibility: offering city workers the chance to listen to a symphony concert before going home – and getting a little handy advice on yoga relaxation techniques for good measure.

On my way to the concert at Perth Town Hall, I wondered how many office workers would take the opportunity to attend a symphony performance straight after work rather than getting home as quickly as possible to put their feet up before the telly (if someone else was looking after dinner) or going into the kitchen to fix the evening meal.

In the event, the venue was packed out – and how inviting it was. Subdued lighting, small clusters of candles in tumblers set on window sills – and a range of pre- and post-concert drinks on offer in an adjoining room. And there were yoga mats on the stage floor for those who preferred that to conventional seating. And as concertgoers arrived by elevator or staircase to access the first floor hall, they were greeted by the sound of musicians offering pre-concert music in the tiny foyer. I was particularly impressed by Julia Watson’s finely considered offering of extracts from a Bach partita for unaccompanied violin. It was a frankly beautiful idea, a beautiful moment.

There was an almost palpable air of anticipation before the start of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, his 41st and last essay in the genre. With Jessica Gethin in top form directing proceedings from the podium, and the orchestra led with characteristic authority by Paul Wright, the work unfolded in exemplary fashion. There was a fine balance of power and grace in the opening allegro vivace. Cellos were in excellent fettle here. The andante cantabile was beautifully considered with as much focus on detail as on conveying the overall sweep of the movement. And the playing in the minuet was an essay in graceful strength with a frankly delightful buoyancy of both mood and momentum. The finale brought joyous energy in abundance as it flashed and glittered with fine detail.

CALM Concert with PSOAs was customary in Mozart’s day, the orchestra played standing (other than the cellists, of course). Audience seating was arranged around the orchestra, the players casually garbed in blue jeans and white tops. And from first note to last, there was about the playing a disciplined commitment which augurs well.  Laurels, in particular, to the cellists and flautist; their contribution was particularly pleasing. The same could be said of the horn and trumpet players who were much on their mettle.

This was an important event. I hope there will be more of them. There’s clearly a demand for it.



Tristan and Isolde (Wagner)

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


He was a horrible person. He treated women appallingly. His vanity was exceeded only by his vanity. He was ferociously anti-semitic – but never hesitated to appoint top-flight Jews to interpret his music when he needed them. So he was a hypocrite as well. Wagner also engaged in the German revolution of 1848-1849). He took part in the Dresden uprising and had to flee the country when a warrant for his arrest was issued. But he was, as well, a genius, a composer of unique and profound operas. And this was breathtakingly in evidence at the Concert Hall on Sunday when Asher Fisch presided over an account of Tristan and Isolde, presented in concert version.

In incompetent hands, Tristan and Isolde can all too easily sound dismayingly, endlessly dreary. But when there’s a conductor of highest accomplishment on the podium, an orchestra consistently on its musical toes and a cast of A1 singers, the result can be immensely rewarding – and this was most certainly the case on Sunday.

Star of the afternoon was that most gifted of singers: Stuart Skelton. As the eponymous hero of Wagner’s masterpiece, this extraordinary musician was beyond reproach, his every utterance as meaningful as one could ever hope to experience. With flawless diction, he gave point and meaning to the subtlest detail. Again and again, one listened to incontrovertible evidence of Skelton’s right to be considered heldentenor par excellence. He brought immense physical presence to his performance, moving about the front of the stage as if it was his natural milieu, his every gesture meaningful. Within moments of his first utterance, it was unequivocally clear we were in the presence of a Wagnerian master.

Gun-Brit Barkmin, standing in at very short notice to replace an indisposed Eva-Maria Westbroek, sang Isolde with care and understanding. Her voice blended well with that of Skelton – and their extended duos brimmed with an emotional power that was almost palpable. Their combined contribution bordered on the sublime. Bravissimo!

Bearing in mind that this was a concert version of the opera with singers positioned in a row in front of the orchestra on a stage devoid of theatrical lighting and props, the interpretative intensity brought to bear on the work was frankly astonishing – and gratifying. Throughout, Fisch’s powerful identification with the work enabled him to extract maximum effect from his forces. Trumpets, trombones and horns were in exceptional form as were the strings.

While Tristan and Isolde dominate the opera, there are crucially important supporting roles. I was particularly impressed by the singing of Ain Anger as King Marke. In fine voice and the epitome of regal dignity, he conveyed very effectively, his disappointment and anger towards Tristan who has taken the monarch’s intended bride (Isolde) from him. And as Brangane, Isolde’s maid-in-waiting, Ekaterina Gubanova sang with impressive confidence.  Boaz Daniel, too, brought presence and vocal skill to the smaller role of Kurwenal.

Sally Kester, drawing on her immense knowledge of Wagner and his works, offered, as ever,  fascinating insights into the opera in her pre-performance talk.