W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Did you know that Grieg’s opus was the very first piano concerto ever recorded? It happened more than a century ago – as far back as 1909. The soloist was a very young Wilhelm Backhaus. It’s a compressed version of the work – a mere nine minutes  – but it is beautifully played. Listen to it on Youtube. And Andrey Gugnin’s offering at the weekend was no less meaningful, not least for its blissful clarity and range of tone colourings.

An audience that packed the Concert Hall to capacity – it was standing room only – listened to the concerto in its entirety featuring a soloist with the world at his feet. And in his hands, Grieg’s masterpiece flashed into pulsing life.  The clarity which this young Russian-born musician brought to the solo part could hardly have been bettered. And the range of tone he coaxed from the Concert Hall’s Steinway – from whispered pianissimi to thunderous blocks of sound hurled into the auditorium like some pianistic Zeus – made for most satisfying listening. The first two movements were beyond reproach, in the best sense meaningful. It was only fleetingly in the finale, though, that one felt that more emphatically stated rhythms were required. At times, it was too lyrical here.

Throughout, Asher Fisch took the WASO players through a first rate accompaniment. I particularly liked the introduction to the central Adagio during which Fisch coaxed an exquisitely hushed response from a much-in-form strings section.

A veritable tidal wave of applause and cheers greeted the conclusion of the concerto, its insistence persuading Gugnin to offer an encore. With house lights dimmed and the soloist in a pale pink spotlight, we listened to a relentlessly virtuosic account of the toccata-like finale to Prokofiev’s Sonata No 7. Yet again, the audience erupted into enthusiastic applause.

As curtainraiser, we were offered the world premiere of young Perth composer Lachlan Skipworth’s Hinterland, a work inspired, inter alia, by Western Australia’s rock formations. Homeland incorporates a swarm of ideas, too many too assimilate on a single hearing. I hope we can listen to it again soon. Its final notes were followed by sustained and vigorous applause.     I was indeed able to listen to it again – on ABC FM  a few days later – and how much more meaningfully the work came across second time around. Skipworth has real skill, producing, through clever orchestration, variants of tone colour that fell most pleasingly on the ear.  On second hearing, though, it sounded a shade too long for its material. Some judicious pruning might well enhance the overall impact of a work full of good ideas.

Also on the program was that much loved symphony – Dvorak’s From the New World. Asch’s focussed direction did wonders not least his skill in injecting enthusiasm into his forces but without ever allowing this to degenerate into mere showiness.

Centenary Remembrance Concert

Perth Symphonic Chorus

Armistice Choir

Perth Philharmonic Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


It could not have been a more solemn occasion: a performance devoted to the fallen in World War I exactly one hundred years to the day

since the curtain finally came down on a hideously prolonged battle that saw the death and disablement of millions.

copyright Treffpunkt WA

As we listened to The Ode of Remembrance and bugler David Scott playing The Last Post, there was a minute of almost palpable silence to reflect on the

slaughter that was World War 1. Then, as the Australian national anthem was sung by the choirs and a capacity audience, the thoughts of most would surely have focussed on the dreadful events of the years 1914 to 1918. Significantly adding to the memorial atmosphere was the fact that the 4pm start of the concert coincided with 9am in France, that being 100 years to the hour since the Armistice was announced by Prime Minister Clemenceau of France – and the concert’s end at 6pm coincided with the cessation of hostilities in France precisely 100 years before.

Then, Faure’s Requiem, its inherent melancholy revealed to a degree I cannot recall experiencing before. And it was listened to in an almost reverential silence.

Dr Pride has devoted her life to choral training and performance – and in this account of Faure’s masterpiece, the Requiem moved me as never before – no mean achievement given I’ve long lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to the work. From first note to last, Pride, as ever in complete control of her forces, did wonders, coaxing responses which brimmed with the sort of insights that come from a lifetime’s association with the setting. And the Requiem worked its melancholy magic as never before.

copyright Treffpunkt WA

Violins, of course, do not feature in the work, their absence giving the string complement a rather darker sonic quality, wholly in keeping with the mood of the work. Soprano Sara Macliver was in her element here. She sang most movingly, again and again taking up an interpretative position at the emotional epicentre of whatever she sang. What a precious musical asset this soprano has been over the decades, not only to Perth but Australia as a whole.  Christopher Richardson, too, sang with consistent expressiveness and a very real understanding of the text uttered so clearly – but from time to time  rather higher decibel levels might to advantage have allowed his voice to be more emphatically projected towards the rear of the venue.

Millions of the armed forces died in this dreadful war. But there were other deaths, too – of animals ranging from homing pigeons and dogs to horses, each involved in the war effort. The most famous from an Australian perspective was the charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade which captured Beersheba from the Turks. So it was entirely appropriate that, early in the program, a horse was ushered on-stage: Indie, rider Phil Dennis from the Kelmscott – Pinjarra 10 Lighthorse Troop. Indie, behaving impeccably, munched carrots.

Also on a memorable program was Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem.






Royal Schools Music Club

Darlington Ensemble

Eileen Joyce Studio, UWA

reviewed by John Meyer


Semra and GladysThe November concert saw Associate Concertmaster of WASO, Semra Lee-Smith (a founding member of the Darlington Ensemble) join with associate artist Gladys Chua in an attractive programme of works for violin and piano.  The two most substantial pieces were sonatas by Brahms and Debussy, composed about thirty years apart but inhabiting quite different sound worlds. In the Sonata in A major by Brahms (1886), both performers were able to balance an often full-bodied sound with the essentially song-like character of the work.  In this sonata, the middle movement is an interesting combination of slow movement and scherzo and the alternations between the two were deftly handled.  Altogether a very satisfying performance of a work that is perhaps not heard as often as the other two sonatas by Brahms, but deserves to be.

With the concert taking place on the actual centenary of the Armistice which ended World War I in 1918, it was appropriate to hear the last work that Debussy completed before his death in that same year.  Its elusive form, fragmented melodies and distinctive harmonies were captured just as well as the late Romanticism of Brahms had been.

Framing the sonatas by these German and French composers were shorter pieces by two Austrian Ks – Korngold and Kreisler.  Korngold’s Garden Scene comes from the incidental music he wrote for Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing (incidentally, also composed in 1918), originally for small orchestra but with this intermezzo later arranged by the composer as an extended piece for violin and piano.  Its rather sentimental lyricism foreshadows his successful film music as well as his later, increasingly popular Violin Concerto.

Praeludium and Allegro in the Style of Pugnani is one of Kreisler’s ‘pastiche’ pieces. Strong playing in the prelude led to rapid passage-work in the Allegro, culminating in a crowd-pleasing climax.  An encore may have been called for, but having played for nearly an hour without a break – save for an explanation of colleagues having to withdraw for various genuine reasons – it was probably better for the audience to leave satisfied but wanting more.  Well done, Semra and Gladys!

Fremantle Chamber Orchestra

Mark Coughlan, conductor

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn


When Felix Mendelssohn wrote the famous overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his unmistakable style was already firmly established. He was a mere 17 years and six months old at the time. But when Schubert, at 16, composed his Symphony No 1, there was almost nothing in it to suggest he was on a path to musical immortality, with barely a hint of the wonders yet to pour from his pen. But it is nonetheless a most remarkably skilled offering despite it revealing barely a hint of the stylistic magic yet to come.

In the hands of the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra with Mark Coughlan at the helm, Schubert’s First flashed into life. It was given a strong introduction. Its robust, emphatic quality could hardly have been bettered. I particularly liked Georgia Lane’s skill on the flute in the Andante movement. The Allegro, which came across as an almost folksy dance unfolded with a pleasing sense of onward momentum. Tempo choice was ideal,  although the movement’s closing measures were tinged with some uncertainty. Oboes redeemed themselves here. Momentum was well maintained in the finale, its ideas coming across as cheerfully noisy and jovial with strings much on their mettle.

Rossini’s overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers worked its customary magic notwithstanding some uncertainty among upper woodwinds but the music’s inherent insouciance registered most pleasingly.

Whether lyrical or virtuosic, Anne Sleptsova’s playing in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto was a model of its kind. This fine pianist sounded in her element here. So, too, did Louise McKay. Her cello playing, as ever, stylistically beyond reproach with notes clothed in a warm tone, reached the back row of the Ballroom in finest fettle. Rebecca Glorie’s violin tone, though finely formed, was rather restrained. Throughout, Coughlan secured a pleasingly supportive response from his forces in this too-seldom-heard masterpiece.

In years – decades! – of attending concerts at Government House Ballroom, I cannot recall any event which drew a bigger audience than that which flocked to this splendid FCO concert.

During the interval, cheese and biscuits were on offer in GHB’s Supper Room.