Too good to last?

November 21, 2014

On Monday night to Angel Place to hear Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in recital for the SSO.

He has been here before and there was a reasonably full hall. I had been sorry to miss a rather patchily-publicized performance by him of the Schumann piano concerto with the SSO and its fellows and fellows-alumni on the Friday morning before, but it was a difficult time and a look on the internet suggested that there were almost no seats available. What had been done with them? Was it all a big free list?

But back to Angel Place.

The first half was all Beethoven. Originally it was to be No 22 (Op 54), No 24 (Op 78), No 26 (op 81a) and Les Adieux, No 26 (op 81a). That is, the last pre-Waldstein sonata and then three more in almost a row – skipping the Appassionata - two smallish and less often performed and Les Adieux as the big finish.

Maybe in the course of the year since the program was planned Bavouzet decided this was a little too esoteric. Whatever reason, in the end what we got was a rearrangement with the unfamiliar little sonatas taken out and substituted for by the Appassionata. That then became the first-half closer, bookended by Les Adieux as the opener with Op 54 tucked in the middle.

Personally, I would have preferred the original first half. But then I am an esoterica snob. Even if that is my own straw man, it says something a bit pathetic about modern piano recital culture that any Beethoven sonata could be considered so. But I’m not making it up – I overheard others commenting on the F major as “not often heard” on the way out at interval.

Consistent with that, I most enjoyed the middle sonata: the second movement elicited a deserved Bravo! from the balcony.

It struck me that Bavouzet’s vision of Beethoven was a French vision of Beethoven the mad German, stomping his foot and thumping the keyboard against the world and his deafness. This started from the octave leap sforzando just into the Allegro of the first movement of Les Adieux, which was matched with a thumpish (in a good way) bass line. As the first half went on, Bavouzet assumed a Ludwig-van-ish dishevelment. Germans tend to downplay that side of LvB to take him back to the world of Goethe and Schiller.

I did wonder if the last Mvt of the Appassionata started a bit fast (it’s “ma non troppo”): there wasn’t much more for JEB to add for the Presto at the end.

Still, I enjoyed it.

The second half was a piece written specially for Bavouzet: “The Book of JEB,” by Bruno Mantovani. I am always a bit trepidatious about new works. It’s ignorance, of course. Being told as we were told to listen to the iterations of the opening chord was not a very helpful listening guide. Nevertheless it was compelling, with some beautiful sounds, and obviously virtuosic – subject to the qualification that I would never know if there were a wrong note, which makes it a kind of low-risk virtuosity which must be a contradiction in terms.

Bavouzet may have brushed his hair at interval: the mad Teuton was banished. He even sat more still.

Which was especially apparent in the last set of pieces, Ravel’s Miroirs. Everyone will have their favourite piece in this set: for me the point where the magic really struck was the boat on the ocean which induced me into a kind of sympathetically sighing trance with the rhythms of the ocean. The spell held and at the end of the valley of the bells I was in tears from the beauty of it all. This was not playing to burst into applause at the end of, but that does not mean it was any the less appreciated.

For an encore we got Debussy’s Fireworks.

This concert itself was not recorded, but a repeat performance in Melbourne is due to be recorded by the ABC and broadcast by them in December. That means I won’t be able to check the (what seemed to me like) slight falters at one point in Les Adieux, but I would be able to hear the Mantovani again and relive the rapture of the Ravel.

At home afterwards, the news was all of the impending cuts to the ABC. The Govt says they are “savings” and that no programs need be cut. ABC management says that as it is it needs to use savings to fund the repositioning of its activities to meet the digital age. Some things will need to be cut to fund this and the word was ABC Classic FM is in the firing line.

ABC “Classic” FM is already not what it was. There are no announcers overnight, and it is unable to announce its music lists more than about 3 days in advance. There has been a certain amount of dumbing down of some of its musical content towards a popular classical format. I could do without Margaret Throsby (though there is less of her than there once was).

What I treasure most in ABC FM is its broadcasts of live performances. That’s the ABC’s own recordings, from Australia, and overseas recordings, mostly from public or public-interest broadcasters. I’m not quite sure how the latter works but I presume it relies on some system of exchange as well as contractual provision in the rights given or sold by the performers to the respective broadcasters.

This has become increasingly important as the economics of studio recordings and CDs or other means of distribution have changed. Broadcasts of local performances and associated magazine-type programs also provide a publicity infrastructure in kind for local performers.

Now it looks as though Mark Scott is ready to slash that. (Update: I meant Classic FM in general but my suspicion that live broadcasts, its most distinctive contribution, would be a target is firming.)

Change and decay in all around as another part of the (middle class) welfare state crumbles. Was it all really too good to last?

Night music

November 3, 2014

On Saturday night to the to SOH see/hear the SSO conducted by Jonathan Nott.

The second half was Mahler 7. There was some pretty flash playing though my generalised recollection is that I have heard the quieter moments played with more charm or enchantment than on this occasion. I’m maddened to find that, because I am not a critic, I did not make a note of the last outing, conducted by Ashkenazy, which I most definitely caught in March 2011. Hence this minimalist note.

Prompted by a morning SMS, I caught up with Db, a student when I was a school teacher and subsequently a neighbour and friend. Db had changed his regular Wednesday ticket. On Wednesday he was at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, which is just two stops up the Pindar Road from the sheep station where my father spent his childhood. It’s a small world.

In the first half David Drury played the Poulenc organ concerto. I enjoyed this though sometimes I thought Drury could have put a bit of a sock in it so we could hear more of the orchestral details. It is always maddening to see players doing things which you cannot hear.

I don’t blame DD: Mr Nott was the one who should have told DD to tone things down – after all, it’s not as if DD could judge the balance.

Db, who, like me, knows DD from our involvement (at different times) in music at S James King Street, doubted whether it would ever be possible to tell DD to tone things down. He was joking, I think.

The first cuckoo

October 21, 2014

I heard the first koel just now – the upward penny-whistle-ish call.

I expect to see them in our mulberry tree (just coming to its prime) shortly.

There has been another more raucous bird call (a bit like a wattle-bird’s but not) heard over the past few days which I am investigating.

Affternote: the raucous one was/is probably a channel-billed cuckoo.


October 16, 2014

Last Friday, to the SOH to hear the SSO.

At interval, a young couple came and sat in the empty seats next to me. They affected a slightly snobbish condescension about the Tchaikovsky 5 which was to come.

I mentioned to them that Tchaikovsky 5 was the first symphony I heard in the Concert Hall when I heard the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play it in what I’m pretty sure was a pre-opening try-out in 1973.

Doubtless they thought that meant I must be very old.

It’s all relative, of course. Before the concert I was chatting to Co, a concert- and opera-going acquaintance of mine who went to the same school as I but 15 or so years earlier. It was all getting a bit olde worlde as another friend of his, Da, came up and mentioned he had received “correspondence” from Co. Were they sending each other actual letters?

Co said he had been down to Canberra the day before with a friend to see the Menzies exhibition at Old Parliament House. Oddly enough, my sister and nephew, visiting Canberra from WA, were also there just the week before.

Co thought the Menzies exhibition a bit of a swizz (it stopped at 1941) but also mentioned he had never been to OPH before. Da then claimed that the last time he had been to OPH was 1946, before he went to England, when (obviously) it was not yet “O.” “It was in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “There was nothing there.”

By my reckoning, that made Da either a very youthful traveller or remarkably well preserved. Either way, I was impressed.

Neglected works

September 29, 2014

On Monday 15/9 to hear Stephen Hough in recital at a packed Angel Place.

The program was described by Hough when introducing an encore as a “Chopin Debussy sandwich” (or was it a Debussy Chopin sandwich?). Sticking with that metaphor, the Chopin was the filling, with the Ballades 2 and 1 coming before interval (in that order, giving a big first-act closer) and 3 and 4 after. This was preceded in the first half by Debussy’s La plus que lente and Estampes, and followed in the second by the Children’s Corner Suite and L’Isle joyeuse.

Obviously, with the possible exception of the first Debussy, none of these could be described as neglected works and indeed the program could hardly have been more popular.

I enjoyed it. Stephen Hough is a pianist I have long admired. There is a kind of spikiness (not in the Anglo-Catholic sense) in his playing – an energised articulation especially in the face of more detailed figuration and a tendency to quirkiness. That’s him: it would be possible to imagine more mellifluous Chopin and Debussy but that would not be the point.

The interposition of the interval also brought out a stylistic jump between the two pairs of Ballades.

Mercifully, enthusiastic applause which interrupted the movements of Estampes was suppressed after a final brief outburst after the first movement of Children’s Corner. Maybe the spiky style suited this piece the most.

On Friday 19/9 to the SOH, again to hear Mr Hough, this time playing the Dvořák Piano Concerto with the SSO conducted by Hans Graf. If the SSO was counting on familiarity with the artist to make up for the unfamiliarity of the concerto, that doesn’t seem to have worked – though not embarrassingly empty it was a far from full hall.

The second half was Bruckner 6. Oddly, according to the program, Hans Graf also conducted this work the last time the SSO performed it, in 1996.

I enjoyed both works though I can’t say I was really familiar with either. There was a funny bit about three-quarters into the first movement of the Dvořák when the piano part started digging into emphatic looping triplet figures against an orchestral theme where I thought, “Yes! Brahms!.” (it’s at about 9.44 here) I also liked the slow movement which made me think at first of his Op 68 No 2 but on listening again I think that is just because I knew it. As for the Bruckner, I didn’t quite grasp the ending.

I was bemused by Maxim Boon’s review in Limelight Magazine’s online version where he devoted most of the first half of his unconstrained-by-print-already-lengthy review to complaining that the talents of Hough and the SSO were squandered on such an obscure (and in his view deficient) work.

I thought it was better than that, but that did set me to thinking how narrow the canon is of nineteenth century romantic piano concerti which we hear performed, at least in Sydney. After Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Schumann, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Grieg (and from these I think you can count only about 15 mainstream concerti) the next rung of works pretty much all only appear as obscurities, even if by well-known composers such as Mendelssohn, Strauss, Franck, Scriabin. Doubtless there are some others which I have left out – but we don’t even get to hear the famous Litolff Scherzo live unless there is an ABC Classic FM countdown.

Hough had taken up his phone in the twittersphere against a Scottish vote for independence. He had tweeted beforehand that he was planning a Scottish encore. The outcome of the poll was not then yet known, though by the time he played it, the news was in.

Without having a particular view about what was best for Scotland, I have found the whole politicking over this most amazingly bullying: why should not Scotland have succeeded as a state to the former United Kingdom and why was it assumed that in any divorce, the rump of the kingdom would get to keep everything? Hough’s Scottish piece was by Granville Bantock – about as Scottish as Debussy was Spanish, I would have thought.

On Saturday 20/9 to hear the Australia Ensemble. The main work in the first half was a clarinet quintet from Arthur Benjamin’s student days, exhumed from some library by Ian Munro. I doubt I will hear it again.

In the second half the Ensemble departed from its customary programming of a major chamber work by finishing up with an arrangement by Mendelssohn for piano duet violin and cello of his (also pretty juvenile) first symphony, which interpolated as a scherzo the famous scherzo from his Octet. The Mendelssohn received a (to me) surprisingly warm reception from the audience: I would have preferred something more redblooded and authentically thought-out for its forces.

I regret to say that piano duets are more fun to be in than to witness – there is something a bit inherently heartless about them, perhaps because of the way that each player is forced onto his or her best manners. It’s not as if you ever see two people playing the same violin or double bass. The violin and cello didn’t really have very much to add.

For me the highlight of the night was Roger Smalley’s trio for clarinet, viola and piano.

Dean Newcombe stepped in on clarinet for a sadly still indisposed Catherine McCorkill. It is difficult not to fear the worst which will be sad news indeed.

One month ago

September 26, 2014

Rotation of IMGP0713 Monster the classic view

The earliest digital picture I have found.



He was a placid cat:

Monster and rabbit

Pussy at kitchen window 2005

More nestling:

Monster curled up at Dulwich Hill 2008

monster in blue pot

His first and most popular appearance on this blog:


The last picture, just before we took him to the vet. He was very sick by then: no need to confine him in the hated cat cage in the car. Forty minutes later, he was dead.


The grave, that night:


Cutting back

September 25, 2014

I received a call yesterday from Opera Australia.  I knew what it was about: I had not yet renewed my subscription for 2015.

My subscription series did not include La Boheme (which I have seen in two recent seasons in quick succession) or the abridged-for-children Magic Flute, but it did include productions of Butterfly, Turandot and La Traviata, all of which I have seen numerous times before, and Tosca, seen only last year though at least it was new then.

It also included Anything Goes. That is described in the brochure as a new Australian production though it seems the set at least will be a “refurbished” old New Zealand one. I would be happy to go if OA could nominate some dates when Alan Jones will not appear.

It’s not that I make the mistake of thinking that operas are only to be seen once.

I haven’t yet tired of Moshinsky’s production of La Traviata even though I must have seen it five times in the last 10 years or so and probably a couple of times before that in the 90s.  Otherwise, only Faust and Marriage of Figaro are new and the only other real attraction for me is the revival (after a long break) of Don Carlo[s].

Prices have taken another substantial leap (about 20%). A hefty premium has been put on Don Carlos.  That’s a sign of the further breakdown of the set series subscription model which will only reinforce itself.  It matters little whether one thinks of that as a virtuous or a vicious circle/cycle because I expect what it really reflects is that OA can no longer require people to subscribe to be sure of a decent seat so that the idea of operas across a series cross-subsidising each other is going to disappear over time.

D had been counselling retrenchment on the operatic front, so I took him at his word.

I have only renewed a full series for one seat and taken a mini-subscription for D. I shall probably exchange all three Puccini operas and use one to top up D’s series and the others to see Faust and Don Carlo[s] more than once.





September 15, 2014


It is three weeks today: we still miss our cat.  He is buried in our (rented) garden. “Do you think his body is rotting yet?” asked D yesterday as we stood near the grave.


That’s not him in the dust-pan on the way to it.

He had a rather beguiling habit of nestling. I know that’s not unusual for cats, but we loved him for it.

5 sep second lot from 4gb sd card 072

The King and I and I

September 15, 2014

On Saturday night with D to this musical.

As far as I recall this was part of my “Opera” Australia subscription package – I don’t think I had exchanged the ticket for another date. If so, looking around me, it seemed that I was in the minority.

Judging from the mood of the audience as we left, everyone enjoyed it. I spotted more than a few people dabbing tears from their eyes and indeed I was one of them – tears of sentiment rather than sorrow. That’s a tribute to the book and the music as a heartstring-tugger, even though, on the way through, I wondered what I was doing there – what everyone was doing, oohing and aahing at children and chuckling at “What-what-what” and “Et cetera” running gags.

The first half drove me to drink: it went so slowly (it was a long wait to “Getting to know you”) and squirm-makingly that I had to resort to the hip flask to get me by. The second half was better, with the striking dancing and costumes of “Small House of Uncle Thomas,” “Wonderful” and “Shall we dance.”

As for the cast, Lisa McCune was reasonable (OK, better than that) though vocally a little light on at the top: she moves well. The King’s part is scarcely a singing part so Teddy was rather wasted in it; his gym-fitness came in good stead. It seemed to me Shu Cheen Yu sang “Wonderful” at a rather higher pitch than it is usually set: she showed what a real singer can do even if a few of the words were hard to make out. The juvenile tenor was a bit underwhelming. The conductor (the cast list flyer gave two names without saying which it was) conducted from the piano score. (Just saying.)

South Pacific was much better.

If Opera Australia want to do musicals, I have decided they can do them without me there. In fact, that is evidently the case: there are plenty of other people who are happy to go. I just wish they could go somewhere else and that musicals weren’t driving opera out.


September 11, 2014



That’s the caption beneath this photo, of two angry young people, published with a story about them by Geesche Jacobson in the Sydney Morning Herald in April 2011.

It starts relating how, the day their father died in July 2010, the brother and sister:

were told his former girlfriend intended to claim against his $1.5 million estate, even though his will named his two children as his only beneficiaries.

The sister:

said she was upset and angry. ”It felt so inappropriate … My brother and I haven’t had time to mourn our father.”

That was nine months ago and so far the estate has spent $22,000 in legal fees.


”I think we will win the case. It is just unfair that we will have to go through the whole process,”

[the sister said.]

By the time Justice Lindsay handed down his reasons for judgment in March 2013 (after a trial in the second half of 2012) he found that an amount equal to more than half the fund of $1,407,257.03 or thereabouts available to meet the competing claims (comprising a net estate valued at about $635,718.72 together with superannuation of about $771,538.31) had been spent on lawyer-client costs.

There had been two failed mediations and the brother and sister had joined the proceedings as defendants themselves in addition to the executors. They did this because they were not happy with the settlement that the executors had reached with the “former girlfriend” and her children at one of the mediations.

They lost, though the “former girlfriend” didn’t get everything she asked for (at the trial she asked for enough to buy a flat and a bit extra).

To be fair to the brother and sister, his Honour found their father had concealed from them and their mother the true state of his relationship with the “former girlfriend” and even actively misled them about it. She was not, as in his words they contended, “nothing more than a gold-digging welfare cheat.” The judge held that she was in a de facto relationship with the deceased [sorry: that's lawyer-talk in these cases which is hard to avoid - I'm sick of calling him "the father," don't want to use a pseudonym, and don't want pronoun confusion to suggest the judge was shacked up with her] and had been since 2004. She and her four children from a prior relationship had also been dependent upon and members of the same household as him. This made them eligible for an award from the estate.

She was awarded $175,000; her children $50,000 between them; plus costs.

The brother and sister were left to pay their own costs and repay their mother with what was left over after the executor’s costs were paid from the remainder of the estate.

On my very rough reckoning, that probably is an outcome of brother and sister – not more than $500K, “ex-girlfriend” and her children – $225K less the shortfall between what they had to pay their lawyers and what they recovered from their costs from the estate – maybe they got $175K by the end between them, and lawyers – $725K or more.

That’s inappropriate.

But what I think is really inappropriate is Geesche Jacobson’s original partisan story. How did it come to be written?


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