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