Archive for July, 2011

Living off the fat of the land

July 28, 2011

On Tuesday night with D to Opera Australia’s production of Of Mice and Men.

The story is one, like King Lear or (also operatically) Otello, where you know from the start things are going to end badly.

When it did, more than a few others around me cried. I managed to, but only just. That’s because, with foreknowledge of the plot (in rather general terms) and with the seething foreboding of the action as it unfolded, I had hardened my heart defensively in anticipation of the grief to come. Oddly enough, I don’t need to do that for, say, Peter Grimes which has an only marginally less dispiriting outcome (man is obliged to kill himself rather than man obliged to kill his friend – if the former really is less dispiriting) and I think that’s because in PG there is an “up” or at least a sideways before there is a “down.” Here the “up” of the dream of the farm never struck me as promising any hope, maybe because I’ve already read The Grapes of Wrath and know just a smidgin of economic history, but maybe also because of the way that the opera juxtaposes Lennie’s dreams of the farm with Curley’s wife’s dream of Hollywood.

If you imagined La Fanciulla del West, Peter Grimes and Appalachian Spring all mixed up together you’d get an idea of the opera and this production. As with OA’s recent production of La Fanciulla there was an entirely appropriate nod towards the movies. Given that Bruce Beresford is the director of this production and he is a well-known film director, that is quite understandable. The look of the production is striking. For me, Beresford went a bit far with the filmed sequence during the final interlude. “Think when we talk of horses,” says the bard “that you see [etc].” As with films made from books, sometimes you’re better off with the book (or here, the music) and the picture in your own mind’s eye. It’s not as if, as in the newsreel interlude in Lulu, there’s any complicated plot exposition to be got through.

I confess I had read Peter McCallum’s comment to much the same effect in his review, so we’ll never know if I would have reached this conclusion independently.

So far as seeing the opera of the book is concerned, Curley’s wife (who has no name) is dealt with even more roughly than she was in the book though maybe not by much (though as I read it, Steinbeck had to offer an apology for his depiction of her even then). The little wrinkle that Curley is the boss’s son is also ironed out: though a deal is struck with him that Lennie not be fired on the price of the workers telling how his hand was hurt, he otherwise gives all appearances in the opera of being the boss himself. I’m sure if I remembered the book better I’d notice other rearrangements.

When I was a high-school English teacher, the book was taught to year 10 or 11 – probably the serious literary work for the less literary stream. I’m reasonably sure I taught it, though maybe it was only being taught by colleagues and so entered into English-teacher banter. It’s just possible that I actually taught The Grapes of Wrath instead, or maybe I taught both. Certainly I had the two books mixed up and together when I was thinking about the plot on the way in.

That in turn has made me think about the literary operas we now see, and how they were first encountered by their audiences. Rarely as works previously taught by them to secondary school students, but probably often with a similar rather distant memory. I suspect the music and the entertainment drew them in, but they left with something to think about beyond those once the book was brought back into mind. Which is rather a prima la parole or prima la musica kind of question. In the scale of things I suppose that really is a “trifling problem.”

Capriccio

July 22, 2011

On Thursday to hear Capriccio again.

I now wish I had not resisted temptation last week when there was another chance to catch it (the matinee was out of the question as it was well-booked).

There is now only one performance left.

Undoubtedly, with a little study of the libretto and the benefit of having seen the opera once already, I was in a better position than before to enjoy it even though (relative) frugality again dictated a front-row no-surtitle-view seat.

Not that I couldn’t have moved further back after interval had I chosen to.

OA’s pre-show publicity mentioned that Capriccio is a big night out for the clarinets. Really, it is a big night for the whole orchestra, but last night opened my ears to Strauss’s use of the wind choir as a harmonium-like quasi-continuo glue to stick the orchestra together. Five clarinets (including under that moniker a basset horn) and three bassoons were at the heart of this.

There were many other orchestral felicities.

There is an orchestral interlude (that link is obviously to a larger scale production) towards the end which sounds like the prelude to a fifth (properly ur-first) last song. (On reflection: fifth-last.) “Late style” seems palpable. Decadence (of the art form rather than treated as a question of subject matter) is just a curdle away, if it is not already manifest.

The problem is that despite Capriccio‘s evident appeal to the orchestra, such works do not apparently have widespread appeal to the ticket-buying public. Maybe there will be six-thousand of us for six performances in total – it all depends on what counts as ticket-buying. The house seats 1400.

I shall be going to the last performance, next week. I look forward to it. If you want to go, there were on last investigation plenty of seats left and I recommend you press OA for a discount if price is a consideration for you. [Good luck trying.] God knows, they ought to be willing to give you one rather than waste on empty seats the money you or I have already provided via our taxes.

In the meantime, there is to be a broadcast on Sunday night.

Two striking cases

July 20, 2011

Judgments both, as it happens, handed down on 1 July this year.

Haysam Zreika v State of New South Wales [2011] NSWDC 67

After a hard-fought trial, Mr Zreika, who was held to have been wrongfully arrested (after which he was falsely imprisoned for some two months), assaulted (or more correctly, battered, though the judge did not consider the distinction relevant from the point of view of damages) and maliciously prosecuted, was awarded $304,000 damages (including aggravated damages for the wrongful arrest and aggravated and exemplary damages for the malicious prosecution) with interest to be determined.  (See update below).

The case includes aspects of police conduct of prosecutions which are familiar – handing over copies of CCTV which cannot be properly viewed or listened to; withholding exculpatory evidence; opposing bail on the basis of exaggerated and misleading fact sheets. All of these served to prolong the imprisonment and the prosecution. Even on the trial of the action, some important documents, subpoenaed long before, did not turn up until well into the trial.

and

Van Dyke v Sidhu [2011] NSWCA 187

The Court of Appeal upheld Ms Van Dyke’s appeal against the decision of Justice Gzell (before whom she was representing herself) to dismiss part of her case without even hearing any evidence. Apparently Justice Gzell took the view that the case was hopeless and acted pretty much of his own motion (though not without opposing counsel jumping onto the bandwagon) out of a zeal for efficiency. The Court of Appeal considered the zeal misplaced and ordered that the matter be sent back to be heard by any judge in the equity division other than Justice Gzell.

I have not seen reports of either of these cases in the press. I would have thought the first at least was newsworthy.

Update, 1 August 2011: the decision in Zreika has been reported in the SMH today.

Update, March 2012: on appeal the award of exemplary damages for malicious prosecution was reduced from $100,000 to $50,000 – State of New South Wales v Zreika [2012] NSWCA 37 .  This was on the basis that the judge had made an error (the reasoning for this is pretty odd – see [70]-[71]) and that therefore the Court of Appeal should assess it afresh, which it did in the lower amount.

La Boheme – the gay angle

July 18, 2011

On Saturday with D to see Opera Australia’s new production of La Boheme.

I took the precaution, in view of the new surtitle system, to read the libretto through in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, such materials I was able to find on the net extended only to snippets of facing language translations and I otherwise had recourse to a pretty clunky English translation.

In the first quadro (tableau rather than “Act” – the opera follows its source in presenting scenes from Bohemian life) our young bohemians gather. It is Christmas Eve. Things are at a low pass but faced with much merriment as Rodolfo throws a manuscript of a play he has written into the stove: when the flames crackle, that must be the kisses. All of a sudden, Schaunard, the musician, returns triumphantly from a decidedly odd but also quite lucrative engagement with an elderly English milord. He tells an elaborate tale about being commanded to play until a parrot is dead and eventually poisoning it. Why Schaunard should wish to kill the bird rather than prolong the engagement and so potentially augment his fee is beyond me. Maybe he wasn’t expecting to be able to charge on a time-costing basis.

So call me dirty minded, call me suspicious, but I wondered if there was ever (and yes, I know this is fiction but I mean within the bounds of that fiction) really any parrot at all.

It turned out that director Gale Edwards had the same idea – assisted, no doubt, by the relocation of the action in this production to an Isherwood-Cabaret-esque Weimar Berlin. Schaunard entered, nattily attired in spats, attended by two even more outrageously gay/transvestite hangers on. Yes, in case you couldn’t tell (D and I exchanged glances at the corny obviousness) Schaunard was gay.

Shane Lowrencev (picture above from the SMH by Nick Moir) who was reading Brideshead Revisited at the time, has said that he decided to base his characterisation on Waugh’s Anthony Blanche – a character sometimes said to have been based by Waugh on Harold Acton but by Waugh himself said to have been based on Brian Howard.

I can’t say I saw the resemblance. Lowrencev looked more like a cross between Aschenbach and the Baron de Charlus to me, with maybe a touch of Proust.

That’s all very well, but in terms of the story about the parrot, it’s all very wrong. To simplify things rather crudely, Aschenbach, de Charlus and yes, even Proust, were all punters. If in Paris in the 1890s, Schaunard would be more Reynaldo Hahn than Proust. As models for Schaunard on Edwards’ hypothesis, Blanche, Acton and Howard are all on the wrong money side of the transaction. A strapping young man (Lowrencev is tall) in Weimar Berlin would be more likely to be drawn into a conversation about a parrot with an elderly tourist if he were muscular than if he were queeny. There would have been no need for him to be “flamboyant” and indeed from the point of view of his elderly admirer he would probably have been more desirable if he were not.

D doubted that any gay man could have been so flamboyant in the company of his fellow bohemians unless they too were gay. Now then, that’s a thought…

To tell the truth, D and I have long tired of Opera Australia’s depiction of “gay.” We are certainly over gratitude for any kind of acknowledgment of gay people’s existence, especially when it is always delivered so heavy-handedly. We don’t mind the stereotype sometimes, but does it have to be always?

Conversation piece

July 11, 2011

On Saturday with D to see Opera Australia’s revival of Capriccio.

We sat in our normal seats, in the middle of the front row. The tickets state that there is “no surtitle view” but our experience has been that if you are prepared to brave a crick in your neck you can make the surtitles out. Usually I do so only sparingly, depending on how well I know the piece and the language it is in.

Capriccio is an opera where nothing very much happens. It’s all in the conversation about opera. There is a debate between the relative importances of words and music with a further rival claim to the importance of the machinery of the theatre itself, personified in the rival claims of a poet and a composer to the affections of a Countess, with interjections from a theatrical impressario on behalf of the theatre and by her brother who has, in loose terms, more Philistine or carnal tastes. I suppose I should have read up the libretto in great detail before I went, but I didn’t. I thought I could glance up, if need be.

It was a shock then to find that the old projected surtitles have been replaced by what appears to be an LED display. I don’t know whether this is an innovation by OA or by the SOH. The lettering is smaller, the positioning is higher and the angle is less favourable, at least for those in the very front. I could just read it if need be but it was an effort and D and my neighbours could not. They were basically stuck with “la musica.” That was luscious but rather defeated the point of the opera for them.

Opera Australia features a blog post by Adrian Collette, entitled: Capriccio: Fostering artistic development at Opera Australia. I have mixed feelings about this title.

On the one hand, I think it means “putting on productions which we want to do although we may not sell tickets” – and I am sympathetic to that, even though, as ever, I think the company is not flexible enough at all in its attempts to sell tickets. As with other such less popular works, only the matinee is a full house. There is a promotional code around which will get you a modest discount on single tickets. I don’t really see why such a code should be restricted to those few in the know when the sales are so sluggish and obviously the discount will need to be greater if those empty seats are to be filled.

On the other hand, I think it means “casting the opera from within the company and especially from the younger artists.” Unfortunately that can really be code for undercasting. Certainly, the casting was quite a bit less luxurious than that which we were treated to when this production premiered as part of the Olympic Arts Festival in 2000. That’s understandable, and after all, the departure of Simone Young a few years after that was in part about whether the company could afford to sustain such standards and costs.

I’d rather see the opera than not see it at all. I accept that casting and undercasting are relative to the resources available. My expectations if I were to go to next month’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor by the Rockdale Opera Company would obviously be quite different from my expectations of a night at the SOH with OA – as would be the ticket prices. In this case there was one clear case, to me at least, of not simply undercasting but also miscasting in terms of voice-type. I’m not a critic and it’s not the singer’s fault (Shortcomings or mismatches are all relative, and I thought the singer in question did well in terms of that particular singer’s development) so other than to say that it wasn’t Cheryl Barker I won’t offer a name. To be fair to Mr Collette, other junior artists bloomed with their moment in the sun, even if there were a few hairy moments.

I did my best with the German and my rusty recollection: at least I could follow the references to Piccini and the battle of the operas. D found it harder going. He and his neighbour both agreed that the ending seemed like it would never come. Actually that’s the whole point of interminable endings, but it’s only the point if you are enjoying and able to follow what’s going on – at least that’s my opinion.

I shall go again. I could go again more often if price were no object and prudence no consideration.

Judicial humour

July 10, 2011

On Friday afternoon I was dropping my shirts off to be washed – it’s an extravagance, I know, but as I cycle into work the only alternative would be to bring my shirts to work in the bike pannier and iron them on the tiny ironing board in the little shower-room which we have.

There was a distinguished looking gentleman there before me, dropping off his laundry and in particular a rather sumptuous red tie.

I knew he was distinguished because of the extraordinary deference with which the laundry lady was treating him. There was some discussion about his clothes – it appeared that some of his pockets were in need of repair and she was discussing the options with him.

“It’s the keys,” the gentleman said. “It’s not the coins. Judges aren’t paid that well.”

I couldn’t help myself. I know it is rude to turn a joke against someone when they make it against themselves (for context: the base salary for a Federal Court judge, commencing 1 July 2011, is $391,140)
and surely he must have been joking, but I couldn’t resist it. I now cannot remember the exact words, but it was to the effect that this conclusion hardly follows, because judges only take the paper money.

Of course I meant that judges are well enough off to leave any coins they are offered in their change or whatever, but the gentleman shot me a slightly sharp glance before he left.

I took the precaution of taking a quick squizz at the name on his dry-cleaning slip. It would be best if I never have to appear before him.

A Thousand Miles from Care 2 – redacted

July 9, 2011

Litigation can be gruelling.

I have previously written about the ongoing dispute between Mr and Mrs McLaughlin and those who control the home unit company in Manly in which as far as I know the McLaughlins still own shares.

Out of the blue that post attracted a comment alerting me to a hearing on Friday afternoon before Justice Pembroke.

I almost went. It was up at Hospital Road. The court building, originally (at least in my memory) occupied by the District Court, has been done up a bit but mercifully not too much. Tucked in behind Sydney Hospital, the Hyde Park Barracks and the Old Mint, the precinct has a an oddly demi-mondaine charm and a more human scale than the main court building.

In cases where the the critical evidence is documentary, seeing justice done or even (abandoning the picturesque phrase in favour of a more realistic description) seeing law done can be pretty boring stuff. I let it pass.

Some time ago I started a follow-up post to my first post on this topic but the project has stalled. There is simply too much detail. Instead, I’ll just collect the primary sources, such as they are, here. I’m not including the various Land and Environment Court applications which I touched on in my first post – I’m confining the list to the various reported episodes of the litigation between the McLaughlins and the company.

McLaughlin v Dungowan Manly Pty Ltd [2006] NSWSC 1001

I have dealt with this in my first post. Justice Barrett knocked back the McLaughlins’ first attempt to stop the company acting on various amendments to its constitution which, oddly, both sides thought were essential to the company proceeding with its redevelopment plans, but which Justice Barrett thought were not. Justice Barrett thought that the construction of extensions to the building as part of the proposed renovations was an entirely separate question to the proposal to sell shares for the new apartments which were to be built, even though that was an essential aspect of the proposal’s financial viability.

McLaughlin v Dungowan Manly Pty Ltd [2007] NSWSC 197

Justice Barrett knocked back a second application by the McLaughlins to prevent the company forfeiting (in effect, confiscating and selling) the McLaughlins’ share if the McLaughlins failed to pay a special levy which the company had struck in order to meet the risk that the company would be broke because the directors had failed to obtain bank finance before they embarked on the project and the bank required the rift with the McLaughlins to be settled or the McLaughlins to be departing as shareholders before the Bank would advance the money. Justice Barrett thought that the company had power to strike the levy and there would be no irreversible harm to the McLaughlins because the company would sell the share and return the surplus value of it to the McLaughlins anyway.

After that, the McLaughlins paid the levy under protest. They were in fact the only ones threatened with forfeiture of their share in that way, even though other shareholders had not paid the levy either and were paying their amounts in dribs and drabs. After that, it seems that the bank came through with the finance anyway, and the company decided that only half the levy needed to be paid. The McLaughlins, who were the only ones who had paid the full levy, asked for a refund of half but were refused.

There were doubtless various interlocutory stoushes which have not led to any judgment published on the internet.

In September and October 2009, the matter came on for hearing over six or so days before Justice Ward with final submissions in November.

In the meantime, undisclosed by the company in the course of the proceedings, the company was facing a winding up application by its unpaid builders. The tax office was also a creditor. The company took steps to complete the project in a way which would enable it to meet these demands by completing the conversion of the title of the property to strata title and selling off the new apartments which had been added to the top of the building. It looked possible that the company would, at the end of this, not own the building at all. There was a real risk that if the McLaughlins were successful, they would be left with remedies against a company which owned nothing other than, presumably, their own apartment.

In February 2010, when Justice Ward was yet to deliver her decision, the McLaughlins applied to the court to reopen their case to add evidence about these further developments, and also to seek orders stopping the company going any further with steps which they said would be to their prejudice in this way. The application was strenuously resisted. Justice Ward’s decision is McLaughlin v Dungowan Manly Pty Limited [2010] NSWSC 89. She allowed the additional evidence in but did not grant an injunction. She said that the best course would be delivery of her judgment within a short period.

McLaughlin v Dungowan Manly Pty Limited [2010] NSWSC 187 is Justice Ward’s judgment, which she handed down in March 2010.

Justice Ward did dot uphold all of the McLaughlins’ claims but did uphold some. She also gave the McLaughlins leave to bring a claim on behalf of the company against the directors for breach of their duties, in particular in embarking on such a project without lining up the finance first. That has yet to be heard.

McLaughlin v Dungowan Manly Pty Limited [2010] NSWSC 306 is Justice Ward’s decision on costs, argued and determined in April 2010. She ordered that the company pay the McLaughlins’ cost.

The company appealed Justice Ward’s judgment. The McLaughlins also cross-appealed. The appeal took its own tortuous path and was set down for hearing early in 2011. By this stage the McLaughlins and one other shareholder were, on one view, the only shareholders in the company because the building had been converted to strata title and under share surrender agreements the other shareholders had exchanged their shares for strata title in the new body corporate which had been set up. The McLaughlins called a meeting of the two shareholders which voted to replace the directors of the company (who as they were said by the McLaughlins to be no longer shareholders were on tht view not permitted to be directors anyway) and install new directors who promptly engaged fresh solicitors who consented to the dismissal of the the company’s appeal against Justice Ward’s judgment. This might seem like sharp practice, but it was in fact quite consistent with threats that had previously been made by the company to the McLaughlins that they would indeed end up as the only shareholders in the company.

One reason why the McLaughlins were still just shareholders rather than the owners of a strata title over their flat was that the company had refused to transfer the title in the unit to them. It said it could not do this until the various amounts owing between the McLaughlins and the company could be determined, and that this could not be determined until the hearing of the appeal.

This brought everyone back to court again. The hearing of the appeal was vacated whilst this issue could be determined. The company said that the other shareholders were still shareholders and that the previous directors were therefore still the directors and the meeting replacing them was ineffective. The McLaughlins made fresh claims of oppression against the company in relation to its stance towards them.

McLaughlin v Dungowan Manly Pty Ltd [2011] NSWSC 215 is Justice Pembroke’s judgment about this, delivered on 25 March 2011 after a hearing on 2 March. Justice Pembroke held that the other shareholders were still shareholders as to find otherwise would lead to a capricious and unintended result from the share surrender agreements. However, he also held that the company was wrong in saying, in particular, that it did not need to pay the McLaughlins what was owing under the judgment in their favour by Justice Ward. Just because there is an appeal does not mean, unless the losing party at first instance obtains a stay of judgment, that the judgment appealed against is not binding and effective. It seemed an elegant baby-down-the-middlish solution, though because the McLaughlins lost on the interpretation of the share surrender agreements, they were ordered to pay 75% of the company’s costs.

The McLaughlins said that Justice Pembroke had not dealt properly with all of their claim. They went back to him and applied to have the judgment set aside and for leave to re-open their case for a rehearing of certain aspects of it. McLaughlin v Dungowan Manly Pty Ltd (No 2) [2011] NSWSC 384 is Justice Pembroke’s decision, handed down on 10 May 2011 after argument on 28 April. It is a little difficult to follow but in essence it seems to be that the McLaughlins’ complaint was that although his Honour had decided that they were not, after all, the only shareholders (along with one other) of the company, he had not determined what the entitlements of the other shareholders were, when their case was (I surmise) that in the circumstances of the share surrender there must be some limitations on those powers. Given the history of the use of the majority’s voting power to their prejudice, there could well be something in that, and reason for the McLaughlins to seek some rulings from the court about it. Somewhat reluctantly (he called it a marginal case), but perhaps enlightened by the retrospective light that Justice Ward’s decision and his own first decision cast over Justice Barrett’s refusal to grant interlocutory relief at the start of this controversy, Justice Pembroke acceded to the application:

“This is a marginal case for the exercise of the exceptional power to re-open a judgment and grant a re-hearing. I am exercising my discretion to do so partly because the unfortunate litigious history between the plaintiffs and the Company, suggests that, ultimately, it will be in the interests of justice if I do so; because it may limit the opportunities for further disputation if I go further than what I have so far done. I do not therefore think that I should limit myself to rejecting the specific declarations and orders which the plaintiffs seek. I should go further and do what I can to facilitate the resolution of the real issues. If necessary, I should give such further judgment or order, or provide such further reasons, as the nature of this particular case requires.”

Friday’s listing was presumably a further chapter. There has yet to be another judgment by Justice Pembroke. Who knows what is happening in the appeal.

Something on

July 3, 2011

Last night back to the SOH to hear the SSO.

The program had the catchy title on my ticket of “Romantic Pictures.” “Pictures” came from the Ravel-Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition which made up the second half. “Romantic” was a fair characterisation of the first half, which was Ingrid Fliter playing the Schumann Piano Concerto, preceded by Liszt: Tasso, Lament and Triumph.

Silly me, when I looked that up quickly before going to the concert I got it into my head that we were going to hear three short works by Liszt. In fact Tasso is one of the earliest of Liszt’s symphonic poems. It is something of a rarety: in my lifetime the SSO had previously played it only once, at a Prom concert conducted by John Hopkins, in 1973. On that statistic, I expect to be dead or confined to the palliative care facility when it next comes up.

Coming to the work cold, I was struck by how much of Liszt’s pianistic style came through in the orchestra work: I fancied I recognized an orchestral version of one particular trick he has, which is to set up a pedallistic blur from which a new theme emerges after the change of pedal, In Tasso I heard something like this effected by a kind of baton-change between different sections of the orchestra. Some of the orchestral colours, especially in the opening section, seemed almost proto-Wagnerian. There is some suggestion that this aspect of the “new music” owed much to Liszt’s associates, one of whom, Raff, asserted a claim to attribution for this aspect of Liszt’s symphonic poems as a collaborator rather than a mere assistant. That’s an old, old story, isn’t it?

I enjoyed the Lament more than the Triumph. Maybe that’s my disposition, but in addition, as things got jollier they felt more like the sort of music that Liszt could and did write by the yard. Still, I resolved to seek out and rehear the work before the end comes.

The Schumann concerto suffers from no such obscurity. It is one of my favourite piano concerti and I have even played it – I make no claims for that performance. Everyone else seemed to enjoy Ingrid Fliter’s performance a lot more than I did, which probably means I allowed my own preconceptions to get in the way of appreciating her approach. (I also wondered about the state of the piano.) Of course I still enjoyed it, and not simply because it is a great work. My favourite bits remain the famous hemiola in the second theme of last movement (PS kept counting in 2) and the other bit where it seems to skip a beat but which in fact is also another, in this case cadential, hemiola.

The Liszt draws on Goethe and Byron for the myth of Tasso, and takes its musical inspiration from a song said by Liszt to have been sung to him to a text from the first two lines of Tasso’s Gerusalem Liberata by a Venetian gondolier. This had first found a place in Liszt’s oeuvre as part of Venezia et Napoli. Those are reasonable “Romantic” credentials.

Schumann’s Romantic genealogy is different. It is a genealogy which seems to be underappreciated these days, in English speaking countries perhaps because its literary co-ordinates are less well-known to us. The concerto, written for Clara, has a certain small “r” romantic aspect of its own, which mingles with its big “R” poeticism. Ironically, the concerto is probably these days overshadowed by Grieg’s later A minor essay in the same form which Schumann’s obviously inspired.

The SSO has for some time been including details of Australian performance history in its program notes. Possibly with the assistance of NLA Trove, they have now cast their net back further. So not only did we learn that the Liszt was first performed in Sydney in 1883 in Liszt’s own two-piano version by Paulo Giorza and one of his students, but also that the first movement of the Schumann was first performed in Australia in Sydney in 1885 by Alice Charbonnet-Kellerman and an orchestra conducted by Leon Caron. Possibly the source for that is this advertisement (scroll down to about page 3). I’m surprised it was so late or that there isn’t an earlier performance in Melbourne that hasn’t been tracked down. Surely at least H H Richardson might have managed a two-piano version to take Laura Tweedle Rambotham’s constant playing of Von fremden Ländern und Menschen (in the film version at least of The Getting of Wisdom) to a higher and more consummated level?

The second half was Pictures. It was a cracking (or do I mean crackling?) performance. Paul Goodchild, the associate principal trumpet, had a very good night – there was only one bit (the poor Jew – a section in questionable taste in the tradition of Fagin, Shylock, Beckmesser and Mime) where I thought he could have been a little quieter, and that could have been conductor Pinchas Steinberg’s decision rather than Mr Goodchild’s. It’s not simply because I believe PG to be a fellow-resident of Dulwich Hill that I wonder whether the time has come for an appointment of joint principal trumpets, especially considering the substantial share of the heavy-lifting duties that he takes on.

This was a very popular program. Both the Schumannn and the Mussorgsky are crowd-pleasers. I was surprised or, rather, disappointed to see that so little effort had apparently been made to sell tickets in the choir and organ galleries, which were only sparsely populated.