Aire Flamenco


reviewed by Neville Cohn

Lyric’s Underground

Stars of the afternoon  Maree Laffan and Valeria Gonzalez, beautifully  gowned, triggered thoroughly deserved, sustained and enthusiastic  applause for their solos. Maree’s Tangos and Valerie’s Fandango de Huelva  were  high points of the afternoon. 

Initially, we watched a brief but fascinating history of flamenco via a series of  often intriguing images projected onto an on-stage screen.

Twice, members of the audience were invited to the front of the venue to  clap and dance along to a spirited, on-stage instrumental accompaniment. 

There was much else on offer.  Guitarist Jose Giraldo, that veteran of innumerable flamenco performances, rose splendidly to the occasion as did  Steve Richter, a wizard of the  cajon.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

The programme was very carefully constructed to include the chief aspects of flamenco: the dance (el baile), the guitar (el toque) and the voice (el cante).    A highlight was a guitar Soleares played by Giraldo and Francesca Lizza .

The Royal Schools Music Club

Esencia de España

Esencia de España

Saturday 13th of March 2021 at the Frank Callaway Auditorium,

 Conservatorium of Music, UWA.

Reviewed by Jo Donnellan


Esencia de España
Photo: Maree Laffan

It was the club’s first presentation for 2021. Health precautions in respect of Covid 19 notwithstanding, the mood was festive, in anticipation of a rare treat.

The substantial audience welcomed Deanna Blacher OAM (castanets) and Neville Cohn (piano), with Irish-born mezzo soprano Ruth Burke, presenting a snapshot of Spanish music in its variety and richness. Dance interludes by Nicole Levy, Karen Mooney and Natalia del Mar provided another dimension.

Both Blacher and Cohn spoke informatively and entertainingly on the origins and the place in Spanish cultural evolution of the compositions and of the castanets.

Two 19th century compositions by Isaac Albeniz; the lyrical Cordoba from Suite Espanola, and Asturias (Leyenda) opened. Blacher’s authoritative style was particularly evident in the latter, an intense, dark-toned legend.

There followed five traditional songs arranged by Federico Garcia Lorca. Burke’s lovely voice and expressive delivery evoked the character; amorous, celebratory, faerie, of the songs.

It was time for a dance, a Sevillanas of the 18th century. This Escuela Bolera style shows elements of classical ballet, the  influence of the early French and Italian teachers.

Photo: Maree Laffan

The overture from El Caserio by Jesus Guridi Bidaola represented Zarzuela, a genre of romantic operetta popular to this day. Blacher projected the inherent fun and frothiness.

Joaquin Turina’s Orgia from Danzas Fantasticas, opus 22 (1919) was dark-toned and tempestuous, with a Middle Eastern flavour.

To finish, another Lorca piece, Los Cuatro Muleros. The full cast, except the singer, joined in a stamping, irreverent bulerias.

Applause was heartfelt and prolonged.

The Music of Disney

Adam Hall and The Velvet Playboys
The Sewing Room, Wolf Lane
reviewed by Neville Cohn

In a Sewing Room packed to capacity, top trumpeter and vocalist Adam Hall and The Velvet Playboys made magic of a succession of Disney delights. Again and again, members of the audience, clearly familiar with this or that song’s every word, silently mouthed the texts as they swayed to the rhythms of these timeless pieces. In decades of concert going, I cannot recall audience participation to such a degree. Led by Adam Hall, a top line-up of musos showed us how it’s done, not least Adrian Galante who, at an electronic keyboard, responded to every nuance of the music with virtuosic fluency and a faultless grasp of style. He’s good on clarinet as well. And Antony Dodos played the trombone as if it had been invented for him.

Laurels aplenty, too, to Kate Pass whose skill on the double bass was yet again admirably in evidence. Bronton Ainsworth’s percussive mastery on drums, too, was no less satisfying. And Mark Turner was as adroit on saxophone as on guitar. At one point, the players, led by Hall, came down from the stage and, in high style and without missing a beat, did a circuit of the venue to the clear delight of an audience which packed the venue to capacity. I particularly liked the band’s account of It’s a Small World by the Sherman brothers, those tireless composers who, incidentally, wrote more songs for Disney than any other song-writing team. Spoonful of Sugar was a particular delight, yet another golden offering of the Shermans – and, in the hands of these fine players, Superfragilistic flashed into delightful life – as did Randy Newman’s If I Didn’t Have You. At times, though, the venue seemed simply too small to cope with the awesome levels of tone generated by the players.

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

It says a great deal for the skill brought to bear on Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 that, at work’s end, I’d have been more than happy to listen to it all over again. It’s a lengthy work; it runs for an hour. But here, time flew. The Second was written when the composer was 35 and, at last, fully recovered from the devastating effects of depression that had made some of his earlier years almost unbearable.

If, by some miracle of time travel, the composer had been able to attend and listen to this performance, I’d like to think he’d have gone backstage afterwards to shake the conductor’s hand – and even to give a very, very rare smile. It is so easy, in a work like this, for a listener’s attention to wander if the performance is an indifferent ramble. But not here. Throughout, there was an intensity of focus that allowed every measure of the work to exert its magic.

From the very first moments, with cellos and double basses uttering their dour notes in the most impeccable way, the entry of the violas left one in little doubt that we were on a journey likely to be memorable in the best sense. And that it most certainly turned out to be. It was abundantly clear, too, that Nicholas Carter was the man for the job. Musically astute, focussing on fine detail but never losing sight of the overall dimensions of the work, he took his players through a performance to be remembered for the best reasons.  Spacious but never extravagantly so, with finest focus on detail (but never for a moment sounding fussy), we listened to responses now noble, now passionate, and at times gentle – and near-volcanic at moments of high emotion.

In the Scherzo, joyful brass in impeccable form very effectively evoked the movement’s celebratory essence. And in the Adagio, we listened to Allan Meyer’s impeccable skill on clarinet as the inherently yearning quality of the score registered. Here was the very apotheosis of beauty that embraced the listener in a shawl of sonic delight.

Is there a more joyous symphonic finale that that of Rachmaninov’s Second? It was a paean of joy delivered with impressive skill.

Yet again, this audience of senior folk was impeccable in its concert manners, never clapping between movements – only at the end. And was that splendid response deserved? I’ll say it was. Bravo!!

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

In less than thoroughly capable hands, Elgar’s Symphony No 1 can seem interminable. And over the years, I’ve had the misfortune to suffer through a number of poor performances of this masterpiece. Not so on Thursday morning, though.

With a W.A.Symphony Orchestra very much on form, the work unfolded in a way which, I’d like to think, would have received the warmest applause from the composer himself had he through some miracle of time travel been present at the concert. And a big audience on Thursday morning did the symphony (and performance) honour by listening in absorbed silence, which, at work’s end, gave way to prolonged, thoroughly deserved applause.

Mark Wigglesworth is not tall in physical terms – but as an interpreter of Elgar’s masterpiece, he is a musical giant. I cannot imagine anyone failing to be both awed and moved by the quality of playing he coaxed from the WASO. From first note to last, Wigglesworth was in command in the most positive sense as we listened to an orchestra responding to direction by a conductor clearly attuned to even the tiniest details of the score.  This was particularly evident in the slow movement where Wigglesworth and his forces evoked its magical essence to an awesome degree.

Elgar’s First is a symphony that ought to be far more frequently offered in Perth’s orchestral programs. Premiered on December 3rd 1908, it took until 1961 for the symphony to appear for the first time on a WASO program.

So far this year, the WASO strings have, more frequently than not, been in impressive form. And this was again evident at this concert. Plaudits in particular for the cellists who sounded at the top of their game. High praise, too, for the brass section which responded magnificently to the score.

In passing: Elgar was the son of a shopkeeper who was also a piano tuner. In the Edwardian era, English class consciousness was at its height. And if you were not of that class, you were looked down upon. Many of Elgar’s music contemporaries were largely a bunch of third-raters who through birth, connections and/or wealth were considered upper class and fawned upon. They looked down on Elgar –  “good gracious, the chap’s father is a shopkeeper!”.

All his life, Elgar was acutely conscious of being looked down upon because – quelle horreur –  he and his father worked for a living.  And the young Elgar used the books on his father’s music shop shelves to teach himself music theory and counterpoint.  And he certainly had the last laugh.

Most of the compositions of those snobbish contemporaries are nowadays considered junk and almost never heard. Vaughan Williams was a notable and noble exception.  That Elgar, in maturity, was showered with honours and elevated to the aristocracy as a baronet, must have caused his dreadful contemporaries to gnash their teeth in envy. 

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

At the weekend, a thrilling concerto performance that brought many in the audience to their feet – and a dance score given magical treatment that reached for, and touched, the stars –  were presented for concertgoers who filled almost every corner of the Concert Hall with choir stalls packed to capacity.

Tchaikowsky’s The Tempest must surely be the master’s dreariest offering. This was only the second time that The Tempest has appeared on a WASO program. I hope never to listen to it again.  Just the other day, the WASO’s fine playing of extracts from The Nutcracker ballet emphasised yet again its delightful essence. It is still as popular worldwide as ever – but The Tempest score and orchestral parts should be placed in the darkest, dustiest corner of the WASO’s library – and left there indefinitely.

Behzod Abduraimov hails from Tashkent in Uzbekistan  – and he plays the piano as if it was invented specially for him. He took a near-faultless journey through one of the toughest piano scores ever written, making light of its fearsome challenges with brilliance and high style. It was only briefly during the work’s most famous variation – No 18 – that focus blurred briefly. That apart, Abduraimov was peerless, each variation the sonic equivalent of a flawless gem. It’s not often that Perth audiences give musicians a standing ovation but that was very much the case here – and thoroughly deserved, too. The orchestra was in splendid form – and rightly acknowledged by the soloist in a blizzard of applause.

There was an encore. With the pianist bathed in pale pink light, he gave a faultless account of Liszt’s La Campanella.

Later, there was more musical magic with Jaime Martin drawing from his forces a superb response to Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. Like Wagner, Stravinsky was a most unpleasant person – condescending, sarcastic and anti-semitic. But, again like Wagner, he was unquestionably a genius – and Petrouchka is one of the finest fruits of that unique mind. It’s scored magically – both harmonically and melodically.  From first note to last, the WASO players were – in the best sense – on their musical toes as they brought faultless rhythmic bite to the score.  Poetry as well as dramatic intensity were beautifully balanced as the players responded to the conductor’s baton. Under his direction, the score burst into life, conjuring up its poetry no less meaningfully as its moments of melancholy and high drama. Laurels to trumpeter Brent Grapes for a first rate contribution – and the same could be said of principal clarinet Allan Meyer – and Graeme Gilling,

impeccable at the piano. This was a performance to cherish. Bravo!

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

It was a delightful program presented to a capacity house. It consisted of one of the most loved and timeless of all ballet scores as well as a work being played by the WASO for the very first time.

The latter  – Rossiniana – is Respighi’s orchestral arrangement of some pieces originally written by Rossini, part of a flood of miniatures that poured from his pen years after he’d given up writing operas. Rossini,  tongue firmly in cheek, called them ‘nothings’. They are anything but.

With Asher Fisch presiding over events, these charming pieces flashed most agreeably into life. Why has it taken an astonishing 94 years for this music to reach Perth?  I savoured these miniatures, each one a little gem. There was fine work here by oboist Liz Chee. The clear, carrying tone she produced was consistently pleasing. Percussionists, too, were very much on best form as was the brass section. I particularly liked the Intermezzo, a most engaging interlude made memorable by glittering notes drawn from the celeste by Graeme Gilling. It was a fine foil to the introverted and melancholy Lamento which preceded it. At times in the finale, the music was so upbeat and joyful, it would have not surprised me had some concertgoers stepped into the aisles and danced. Laurels, in particular, to flautist Andrew Nicholson and Michael Waye (piccolo) who, throughout the program, were much on their mettle..

I hope WASO audiences won’t need to wait another 94 years for a repeat performance.

Tchaikowsky’s Nutcracker Suite needs no introduction.

It’s arguably the world’s most loved ballet score, as meaningful and memorable in its way to the young as to listeners in their dotage. Suites drawn from the work have enchanted listeners  since the ballet had its premiere in St Petersburg, Russia in 1892. And Asher Fisch and the WASO were very much on form as we listened to page after page of orchestral and melodic magic, not least Waltz of the Flowers in which horns were in first rate form. Allan Meyer, that wizard of the clarinet, brought his exceptional abilities to the fore time and again. And a particularly lavish bouquet to the strings which sounded consistently on their mettle. Strings were very much on their musical toes in the character dances, notably the Chinese Dance and the Russian Trepak. And the Tarantella and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy came across splendidly.

I’m pleased to report that, unlike the compulsive clappers who burst into maddeningly intrusive applause between movements of Mozart’s Symphony No 40 a week earlier, audience behaviour at this 11am concert could not be faulted.

W. A. Symphony Orchestra

WASO Chorus/ St George’s Cathedral Consort

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Ravel’s Sheherazade doesn’t feature frequently in concert programs. It’s formidably difficult to bring off successfully – and over the decades, I’ve sat through some sadly deficient accounts of  this masterpiece. But I am happy to say that at the weekend, Ravel’s score flashed into frankly magnificent life.

At every level, excellence was apparent. Asher Fisch’s direction was beyond reproach – and the highest praise must go to soprano Siobhan Stagg who sounded as if the music had been specially written for her. It abounded in enchanting vocal subtleties and flawlessly shaped phrases. This was artistry of the rarest kind, sonic heaven, an offering that would surely have moved even the grumpiest of concertgoers. I look forward very much to listening to this most impressive soprano again.

Indeed, just as Mrs Gaskell once so memorably said of Anthony Trollope’s novel Framley Parsonage, I wished this performance would go on forever. And, near-miraculously, even the compulsive clappers who had earlier sabotaged Mozart’s Symphony No 40 by bursting into implacable applause between movements, were stunned into respectful silence in the Ravel work – a considerable achievement.  I’d gladly have listened to Sheherazade all over again, not least for choral singing of impressive order. This would be ideal material for a WASO CD. Master flautist Andrew Nicholson was at his persuasive best here.

Despite the unwanted applause in the symphony, the skill with which Fisch and the WASO presented the inner movements and the finale of Mozart’s magnificent work, enabled the listener to experience the composer’s miraculous ideas to the nth degree.

Poulenc’s Stabat Mater is music of a very different stripe. It’s been around for nearly 70 years – but it will never be numbered among the composer’s most loved works. This was the first time ever that the WASO had programmed it. And under Fisch‘s direction, the work unfolded near-faultlessly. There was powerful, dramatic treatment of Cujus animam as was the case in Quis est homo. Stagg was at her most powerfully intense in Let me be wounded. Laurels in particular to the WASO Chorus and St George’s Cathedral Consort who sang very gently and so clearly in Let my heart burn. This was a most meaningful change of mood and a fine contrast to an intensely dramatic Vidit suum.

Siobhan Stagg

Asher Fisch

MOZART: Sonatas K570, K282 & K333

Lancaster playing Mozart in Hong Kong last year

Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano)’

Tall Poppies TP260

reviewed by Neville Cohn

As I listened to fortepianist Geoffrey Lancaster’s recently released compact disc recording devoted to three of Mozart’s keyboard sonatas, I wondered how some of my colleagues would respond to his approach to these works. For those for whom a strict, unwavering beat (apart from a rit at the end of this or that section of the work) is a non-negotiable requirement, Lancaster’s recordings could well trigger apoplectic responses from those unable – or unwilling – to accept that these sonatas are presented in a way that was standard practice during the composer’s lifetime and for a long time afterwards.

Lancaster playing Mozart in Hong Kong last year

As a young grand-pupil of Lili Kraus, I accepted without question that, in Mozart or Haydn,  a steady beat, with hands strictly co-ordinated, was de rigueur throughout. This is ever present in the Mozart recordings of, say, Walter Gieseking whose performances were – and still are for millions of listeners – considered the last word in the way to play the works of the Salzburg master. I’d like to think, though, that even this very great artist, after careful consideration, might have conceded – at least in part –  the validity of Lancaster’s revivifying approach to Mozart.

I hope these recordings receive a very wide listenership. They deserve it. In his retrieval of near-forgotten historic performing modes, Lancaster’s offerings warrant the highest praise and the widest listenership. This compact disc is a compendium of marvels. Even the least important succession of notes is treated with utmost care and, always, infused with beauty of tone and expression.

These performances are a joy from first note to last. I look forward very much to Lancaster’s recordings of more of Mozart’s sonatas – each one prefaced by what comes across as if it were an on-the-spot extemporisation by the soloist, a procedure that was standard practice at the time Mozart’s sonatas were being written.

As ever, Lancaster’s liner notes are a joy to read. They ought to be required reading by anyone preparing a Mozart piano work for performance.

I am certain that I am not the only listener looking forward with great anticipation to Lancaster’s next recording of the keyboard sonatas of Mozart.

WASO’s Festival of Chamber Music

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Even in so zany and improbable a treatment of Bach originals as Luther Henderson’s arrangements for brass ensemble of some of the Master’s Preludes and Fugues from the “48”,  the sheer power and universality of the great composer’s musical ideas are wondrously apparent.  Titled Well Tampered (note spelling!) Bach, it was aural delight from go to whoa. I recall once listening to some of Bach’s work played on an ocarina – and again marvelling at how meaningfully it came across even on so improbable an instrument. In the extracts from the “48”, members of the WASO’s brass section were consistently on their mettle in the opening concert of WASO‘s chamber music festival.

I particularly relished a jazzy version of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor (from Book 1). It came across like some New Orleans take on the original. I relished every moment. I rather think that if Bach himself had, through some miracle if time travel, been at the Ballroom on Saturday,  he’d have given the players a wave of approval.

There was a non-Bachian offering as well: Joshua Davis’ South American Tango Suite: delightful, toe-tapping material that allowed WASO’s brass players to demonstrate their abilities with verve and precision. Tuba playing was excellent.

In the much loved Brandenburg Concerto No 5, soloists Semra Lee-Smith (violin) and Andrew Nicholson on flute gave point and meaning to every phrase. But higher decibel levels were needed for the harpsichord part to make a meaningful contribution. It was too discreet.

To get proceedings underway, we heard a magnificent brass fanfare  – a sonata (composer unknown) from Bankelsangerlieder dating from around 1684 – with players positioned on the tiny balcony at the rear of the stage.  It was a thrilling utterance.

During the intermission, concertgoers took their ease outside the Ballroom in the area fronting the venue where drinks and snacks were on offer. There was also a giant chess board for those who might have wanted a game or two during the intervals. And there was music, too, with flautist Nicholson offering streams of glowing tone on his golden instrument.

Later, we listened to Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet. Here, Allan Meyer was at his impressive best, producing a stream of sound that would surely have pleased even the fussiest of listeners. As WASO’s principal clarinet for years, Meyer has brought distinction to innumerable orchestral works. It was a joy to listen to him in Brahms’ masterpiece. As if drawing inspiration from this sonic magic, the string players sounded on very best form, not least cellist Louise McKay who was strikingly attired in crimson.

Also on the bill was Haydn’s String Quartet in D minor, opus 76 No 2, an offering enhanced by seriousness of purpose on the part of all four players.