Classical Music

ACO: Tognetti’s Beethoven

Richard Tognetti and Jonny Greenwood. Pic Lisa Tomasetti
Inset pic-Richard Tognetti and Jonny Greenwood. (c) Lisa Tomasetti. Featured pic- The maestro with violin in hand, Richard Tognetti (c) Simon Van Boxtel

Those of us lucky enough to be in the audience for this concert were treated to an angelic aural feast. Led by Tognetti and with featured soloists Timo –Veikko Valve on cello and Yevgeny Sudbin on piano the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) played sublimely.

As others of my colleagues have remarked this concert could be subtitled, ‘In the key of C’.  Most of the program was heavenly, ravishing music by Beethoven but it also included the Australian premiere of Jonny Greenwood’s Water. Tognetti conducted dynamically and enthusiastically when not performing solo on the violin. The Orchestra was supplemented where required with extra orchestral members , meaning we heard a full wind section, brass and timpani. Continue reading ACO: Tognetti’s Beethoven

Ottoman Baroque: Brandenburg and the Whirling Dervishes

Ottoman Baroque: Brandenburg and the Whirling Dervish. Pics by Steven Godbee
Ottoman Baroque: Brandenburg and the Whirling Dervish. Pics by Steven Godbee

This was a very exciting and captivating concert that in the first half looked at the 17th century European fascination with all things Turkish and in the second half we heard music from Greece and Turkey .

Under the energetic and enthusiastic direction of Paul Dyer, leading from the keyboard, the Brandenburg played exquisitely. Our narrator, Alan Maddox, looking severe in theatrical black, explained certain points , established context, explained various items and read letters from that period. He guided us on a spiritual and musical journey across Europe from West to East.

The concert began with Lully’s ‘Marche pour le ceremonie des Turcs ‘ from ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’ which, with stirring drums, had a martial feel yet was also full of delicate strings. Continue reading Ottoman Baroque: Brandenburg and the Whirling Dervishes

Live at Lunch: Strauss, Ravel , Canteloube

Flautist supremo, amongst many things, Jane Rutter
Flautist supremo, amongst many talents, Jane Rutter. Above pic star soprano Taryn Fiebig

The latest splendid LIVE AT LUNCH concert was entitled ’ Strauss, Ravel Canteloube’‘ and featured curator Jane Rutter on flute (and assorted other instruments), Vincent Colagiuri on piano and quadruple threat ( yes quadruple threat) and Opera Australia star soprano Taryn Fiebig both singing and playing the cello (who knew that she had majored in cello at WAPPA?! ).

The roughly ¾ audience in the stalls consisted mostly of those over 55 although there were a few younger.

Rutter was stunning in a long sleeveless flowing green gown while Fiebig wore an intriguing, rather odd, possibly futuristic in style black bolero top and a horizontally quilted grey long skirt rather unflattering and stiff. Handsome pianist Vincent Colagiuri was dapper in a tuxedo. Continue reading Live at Lunch: Strauss, Ravel , Canteloube

Britten’s Phaedra

Early music group Thoroughbass shared the stage with soprano Heather Hannah. Featured photo conductor Sarah Penicka-Smith

This weekend early music group Thoroughbass joined with award winning singer Heston Hannah to present a collection of baroque and contemporary works at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

The concert was headlined with Britten’s Phaedra, which was presented with a great flair for storytelling by Hannah. The strings and harpsichord work in a kind of chorus and response with the soprano voice, featuring an urgently descending atonal melodic line on the violins and low, humming sustained notes as an erratic rhythm on the timpani accompanies the vocals. Hannah’s voice perfectly suits the Greek mythological tale of Phaedra’s forbidden love. Her choice of guttural tone throughout the recitatives particularly suits the distress that Phaedra feels and her acceptance of the inevitability of death. Continue reading Britten’s Phaedra


The Australian Chamber Orchestra for this current program tackle the biggest symphonic configuration in their history and two ACO premieres in one concert, the heavyweight Sibelius 6 and Mahler 4. The concert could have another subtitle , ‘ Spring water and Blue sky’ to encapsulate the two different symphonies , Sibelius’‘ spring water ‘and Mahler’s ‘ blue sky’ .

First however we were treated to a delightful surprise prelude. To introduce the newest member of the ACO Instrument family – a rare Joseph Guarneri filius Andreæ violin dating from 1714 – violinist Rebecca Chan performed the exquisite Sibelius Serenade No 2, Op. 69, for violin and orchestra, with the orchestral parts adapted as a quartet from the ensemble.It was haunting ,shimmering , sometimes dance-like and at one point you could almost see the whirling snowflakes.

The complete ACO then assembled onstage for their version of Sibelius’ Symphony No 6 ,of which the composer said it evoked `spring water’’ and always reminded him of the smell of the first snow of the winter.



Soloist Caroline Vercoe
Soloist Caroline Vercoe

Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliette is rarely performed as it requires such a big cast – a huge choir, a large orchestra and three top soloists.

First performed in November 1839 it is Berlioz’s tempestuous, dramatic distillation and reworking of the Shakespearean story in musical and choral terms. This work was a special favourite of Berlioz’s. It can be viewed as a homage to his own personal Juliet (his muse and eventual wife Harriet Smithson) and to his two great inspirations and mentors , Shakespeare and Beethoven. Dedicated to Paganini ( who unfortunately never heard it , to Berlioz’s regret ) ,it was inspired by a performance he attended in 1827 at the Odeon Theatre in Paris ,when he first saw Smithson as Juliet. (She also for example, inspired his ‘Symphonie Fantasique’). Richard Wagner was in the first night audience of Berlioz’s work and there are possible Wagnerian influences throughout as well . With libretto by Émile Deschamps it is regarded as one of Berlioz’s most comprehensive and detailed programmatic pieces.

Under the emphatic , precise, yet very enthusiastic and energetic direction of Nicholas Milton the Willoughby Symphony and choir gave a glorious performance. Milton introduced the work and at various points talked about the work and various sections and what to listen for etc. It is sung in French but with English translation available in the program .The choir was in magnificent form as followers of the two tempestuous warring houses, or the astonished crowds rushing to the church in the Finale for example.

Musically and structurally, ‘Roméo et Juliette ‘shows a lot of influence by Beethoven’s heavyweight 9th symphony – not just with the way choir and soloists are used , but for example in factors such as the weight of the vocal contribution being in the finale, and also in aspects of the orchestration such as the theme of the trombone recitative in the introduction. The characters of Roméo and Juliette are represented by the orchestra, and the chorus/narrative aspects by the voices .Like the Prokofiev ballet it opens with the warring houses of the Capulets and Montagues and the Prince of Verona being forced to intervene.

At the heart of the choral symphony, both emotionally and structurally, is the adagio in part2 , the wordless love scene, written for orchestra alone. Voices are never forgotten however – we hear them in the lyrical love scene , the songs of revellers on their way home from the ball floating softly across the stillness of the Capulets’ garden, and the funeral procession, two movements later, is partly choral. Voices and narrative are increasingly focused in preparation for the dramatic , seething choral finale, where the drama comes fully into the open and the feuds depicted orchestrally in the introduction are relived and then resolved.

The music is wonderfully rich in giving a lyrical, joyous sense of the magic and brevity of love, in “sounds and sweet airs” of various kinds: including the darting scherzo, representing not only Mercutio’s Queen Mab but the whole nimble-footed, comical-fantastic, fatally irrational element in the play.The grandly noble swell of the imposing extended melody which develops from the questioning phrases of “Romeo alone”, the haunting beauty of Juliet’s funeral procession; the thrilling unison of cor anglais, horn and four bassoons in Romeo’s invocation in the Capulet’s tomb and the violence of the lovers’ deaths (viewed as some of the most avant-garde music Berlioz ever wrote); the adagio’s deep-toned harmonies and spellbound arcs of melody, conjuring up the enchanted moonlit night and the wonder of the passion that blossoms in it were all given extraordinary performance.

Leonine tenor Warren Fisher in Act 1 was marvelous – in the Scherzetto when he is Mercutio and the exhilarating ‘Queen Mab ‘ aria . Rotund baritone David Woloszko as Friar Laurence in Act2 has a splendid, commanding voice. His explanation aria and his authoratively demanding that the Montagues and Capulets reconcile was tremendously done. Mezzo-soprano Caroline Vercoe was stunning in a bold full length red gown and was lyrical and striking as Shakespeare’s Chorus in the ‘ Prologue ‘, whizzing us through to the lush romantic balcony scene and the impassioned ‘Strophes’ , achingly recalling the dynamic love of Romeo and Juliet .

A stirring, passionate performance of this hugely demanding Romantic choral symphony that had the packed house wildly cheering and applauding at the end.

Running time 2 hours (approx) including one interval.

The Willoughby Symphony Orchestra’s concert of Berlioz’s ‘Romeo and Juliette’ was performed at the Concourse at Chatswood 21 and 22 June 2014. The Orchestra was conducted by Nicholas Milton with soloists Caroline Vercoe, Warren Fisher and David Woloszko.


Charlotte Fetherston, viola soloist-Harold in Italy
Viola Soloist and orchestra principal Charlotte Fetherstone

Romantic Period orchestral music is popular for its drama, programmatic and literary references and exciting climaxes. This style of music is often present at Balmain Sinfonia concerts. Its recent programme did not disappoint the loyal followers of this orchestra in this regard. Lovers of nineteenth century music were well catered for and the music from this era was arguably the highlight of this concert. This performance event also included the customary and popular giveaways as well as activities for some audience interaction.

The entire second half consisted of Berlioz’s four-movement work, “Harold in Italy”. The viola soloist and orchestra principal Charlotte Fetherston once more displayed clear and finely nuanced playing. Key motives relating to the protagonist and others encountered on his journey are played with character and spontaneity. Solo themes and accompanying filigree from Fetherston were well projected above the competing orchestral textures.

This performance had a considerable amount of heightened Berlioz expression to savour, and a range of exciting meaty unison climaxes. It was also a fortunate thing for the audience to get to hear this work live. It would have been satisfying to have the orchestral colours augmented by an authentic harp as scored and not an electronic keyboard substitute.

Also a highlight of this concert programme was its opening with the Peer Gynt Suite No. 2, Op 55, of rather than the much more often heard first collection Op 23. In particular, the final piece in this suite, the well-known ‘Solveig’s Song’ was quite poised and elegant. Elegantly shaped lines and suitable mood also featured in the suite’s opening, ‘Ingrid’s Lament’. The absence of a real harp was once again noted here.

The central work in this concert was the Haydn ‘Drumroll’ Symphony No 103. The finale to this work was the most precise as well as being most period-appropriate with regard to clarity of line and tempo choice. Timpanist Merrilee McNaught provided very successful drum roll effects in the work’s opening movement. The solo violin of concertmaster Alistair Duff-Forbes provided convincing Haydnesque runs during variations in the Andante movement.

Balmain Sinfonia, orchestra-in-residence at Macquarie University, is planning an interesting concert of sizeable works for its next offering. A celebration of the jubilee of Macquarie University will appear in the next concert with a bracket of music heard during Lachlan Macquarie’s lifetime. Also to be presented are a piano concerto by Beethoven and a major symphony by Saint-Saens.

For more about Balmain Sinfonia, visit


Avi Avital with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Pic Steven Godbee
Avi Avital with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Pic Steven Godbee

One does not usually think of the mandolin as a classical music concert solo instrument, but this magical concert will change your mind.

Israeli virtuoso Avi Avital takes the mandolin to new heights, playing both established Baroque repertoire and finding new material, some of which he has arranged himself for mandolin, all skilfully chosen to showcase the unique voice of this particular instrument. Here on his first visit to Australia, Avital has been universally acclaimed for his performances and recordings, both for his technical prowess and his passion and sensitivity with the instrument.

Continue reading AVI AVITAL WITH THE ABO


Second Image

Another tremendous concert by the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra. MAJESTIC MOZART was triumphant and thrilling, with the audience enthusiastically screaming bravo at the end .

Under the umbrella title ‘Majestic Mozart’ this time the conductor was maestro Alexander Briger who led the orchestra with a controlled, finicky yet delicate and precise touch.

First up was Ravel’s ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin’ , here in the 1919 four movements for  orchestra version ,which had almost a fairytale pastoral feel to it with possible Debussy influences . The work was given a luminous performance of delicate poise.

Continue reading MAJESTIC MOZART


Brilliant celloist Giovanni Sollima, a guest of the Australian Chamber Orchestra
Brilliant celloist Giovanni Sollima, a guest of the ACO. Pic Gian Maria Musarra

This was a glorious concert with some extraordinary, ravishing, intimate and exciting playing by special guest artist/composer Giovanni Sollima on cello.

An internationally recognised musician from Palermo, Italy ,Sollima has composed for diverse artists including legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma and 70s punk icon Patti Smith .The ACO themselves, led by Tognetti,  were in fine, athletic form .



The Sydney Chamber Choir performing at their first concert for the year at the City Recital Hall,  Martin Place
The Sydney Chamber Choir performing at their first concert for the year at the City Recital Hall, Martin Place

The first Sydney Chamber Choir concert for 2014 collaborated with fine soloists and The Metropolitan Orchestra (TMO) to present musical ingenuity from over the past four and a half centuries. Guest conductor Richard Gill was faithful to every ground-breaking composer from each era. He wrought intelligent and measured performances not lacking in resounding climaxes and a wealth of nuance. The architecture and choices for instrumentation of each work were allowed to express themselves with clarity.

Continue reading FAURE’S REQUIEM