Thursday, August 6, 2020

Russian arts patron Wielhorski inspires pianist Neeman and cellist Rann

“The Russian Cello” 

Thomas Rann cello, Edward Neeman piano

Wesley Music Centre

August 2 2020

Reviewed by Tony Magee

CONCERT THEMES are a particularly excellent way of preparing a program of music and the choice of the Russian-Polish Count Matvei Wielhorski and his legacy of enthusiasm for the cello, provided such an opportunity for cellist Thomas Rann and pianist Edward Neeman.

Beginning with Beethoven’s Variations on a theme by Mozart, “Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen”, the performers engaged each other with superb phrasing, balance of tone and volume.

Edward Neeman (L), with cellist Thomas Rann. Photo: Peter Hislop

Neeman extracts a beautiful singing tone from the piano, using a relaxed weight technique. Rann projects his cello sound in a bold, dramatic and engaging manner, partly due to his own stylish and beautiful playing, but also his magnificent modern instrument, made in 2010 in France by luthier Frédéric Chaudière.

Rann varies his upper register intonation at times, complimenting the beautiful rich middle register of his cello and its incredible bass foundation, the low open C string projecting with almost contra-bass proportions.

This pattern of finely honed balance, exquisite phrasing between the two players, tone production and projection of immense clarity and cantabile was repeated throughout the entire concert.

In addition, Neeman and Rann provided the audience with a master-class in dynamic shadings, taking us on a whirlwind tour from the most delicate pianissimos, to forte passages and cadences of immersive strength and intensity.

Both artists play as if they “lived” every moment of each piece. Rann in particular seems to savour the opportunity to visually engage with his audience with occasional eye contact before disappearing back into his inner world of music making.

Two pieces by Karl Davydov followed, his “Romance sans paroles, Op. 23” being beautifully melodic and romantic in nature, before his “At the Fountain, Op. 20, No. 2” which revealed a striking vivace opening of intensity from both musicians before relaxing back once again into a romantic melody of beauty and feeling.

Vieuxtemps’ “Elegy, Op. 30” followed, the cello part being transcribed from the original viola setting. In this, the cello played the dominant role with piano dropping back into a sensitive and moving accompaniment.

To close the program, Mendelssohn’s massive “Cello Sonata No. 2 in D Major” was spell-binding in its delivery from these two master musicians, where piano and cello share equal roles. Neeman recreated Mendelssohn’s own rippling arpeggiated phrases, based on a Sebastian Bach motive in the Adagio movement, both instruments fading into a sublime, almost mystic conclusion. 

The final Molto allegro movement was played with conviction, style, precision and emotion of a magnitude rarely heard these days.

Perhaps its partly the large gap in time since I’ve heard anything live, but I truly believe this was a concert of the first rank.

First published in City News Digital Edition, August 3, 2020

Vibe of delight, as audience and performers return to polished and refined "live" performance.

“Venite, Venite!” 

Luminescence Chamber Ensemble

Gorman House Gallery

August 1 2020

Reviewed by Tony Magee

I N A SUITABLY relaxed and informal atmosphere, Luminescence, in one of their many guises, performed a highly polished and refined concert of music ranging from the late Italian and English Renaissance to modern day composers.

Beginning with Claudio Monteverdi’s “Venite, Venite”, roughly translating as “Come, Come”, soprano Veronica Milroy, mezzo soprano AJ America and guitarist Benjamin Grace captured beautifully the polyphonic style of the composer, with superb harmonic blend and phrasing from the singers, aided by Grace’s sensitive and stylish guitar accompaniment.

Giovanni Legrenzi, an early Italian Baroque composer, was showcased using the same players in his piece “Lumi Potete Piangere”. In this, one could hear harmonic structures that seemed way ahead of their time.

A selection of five Elizabethan pieces from the feather ink quill of English composer John Dowland followed. “Flow My Tears”, arguably Dowland’s best known work, later re-arranged by the composer as the lute solo “Lachrimae Pavin”, was sung with passion and great feeling by tenor Dan Walker, who followed up with “Weep No More Sad Fountains”. The melancholy, heartache and despair these songs evoke came across so perfectly. With Walker’s ability to phrase and enunciate very skilfully, one could feel the immense sorrow.

Soprano Veronica Milroy, tenor Dan Walker and Mezzo Soprano AJ America. Photo: Peter Hislop

Veronica Milroy brightened things up with Dowland’s “Awake Sweet Love”, beautifully sung with sweetness tenderness and passion.

AJ America completed the Dowland set with a move back into the somber tones of “In the Darkness Let Me Dwell” and “Can She Excuse My Wrongs”, the latter also being re-arranged by Dowland later in his life as the lute solo, “The Earl of Essex Galliard”. In these, America displayed her excellent pitch and phrasing abilities, capturing the sadness and despair of both pieces.

Throughout the Dowland set, guitarist Benjamin Grace supported the artists most sensitively, achieving a delicacy of tone that sometimes captured lute-like qualities.

It was lutenist Julian Bream and tenor Peter Pears who brought this repertoire to international attention in 1962, with the release of many recordings for RCA. Pears, incidentally, was also the life partner of composer Benjamin Britten, who featured later in the evening’s program with his arrangement of “I Will Give My Love an Apple”, exquisitely sung by America with Grace on guitar.

The Elizabethan selections closed with all three singers presenting a cappella renditions of Wilbye’s mournful “O What Shall I Do”, showcasing the group’s superb vocal intonation, followed by the bouncy triple-time “Though Philomela Lost Her Love”. 

Morley’s “With My Love My Life Was Nestled” was sung with imaginative period vocal ornamentation by America and once again demonstrating Grace’s lute-like qualities from his Australian made Paul Sheridan guitar, a most impressive instrument.

Now - a change of guitarist and a change of period and style. Minh Le Hoang won first prize in the 50th Tokyo International Guitar Competition in 2007 and is also a long-time member of the Australian quartet, Guitar Trek, founded by his mentor Tim Kain.

Playing his recently acquired and stunning sounding instrument made by Australian luthier Greg Smallman, Hoang delivered the most superb Spanish guitar accompaniments with bold projection, over which swept the voice of AJ America in two pieces by Manuel De Falla - “Jota” and “Canción”.

Dan Walker then took centre stage with Hoang on guitar, performing two pieces by Mátyás Seiber - “Reveille-vous” and “Le Rossignol”, both capturing the essence of French peasant country life with lively and engaging performances. Hoang was playing arrangements by Julian Bream, equally noted as a guitarist as he is a lutenist.

Tenor Dan Walker with guitarists Minh Le Hoang (C) and Benjamin Grace (R). Photo: Peter Hislop

Walker completed the program with a thrilling account of the Italian Tarantella “La Carpinese”, composer unknown.  The vocal line, sung with passion and deep emotion, was complimented by wonderful countermelodies from Minh Le Hoang on guitar, with the strumming support of Benjamin Grace on second guitar and the light, gentle percussion playing of Veronica Milroy on tambourine.

The five performers took well deserved bows to very appreciative applause from the socially-distanced audience. You could feel the vibe of “isn’t this great!” swirling through the room from both the performers and the audience, as we all gently took our first, tentative steps back into the world of live performance.

First pubished in City News Digital Edition, August 2, 2020

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Australian movies, where to from here?


By Jane Freebury

It’s been a treat catching Gillian Armstrong on ABC TV’s Home Delivery this week. Her reminiscences of her student days in the early 1970s are a reminder that there once was a time when ‘there was,’ the celebrated film director pauses for emphasis, ‘… no Australian film’.

Could this conceivably occur again? There hasn’t been much this year.

When and on what platform will we get to view Babyteeth, The Dry, and the others pending? Screen Producers Australia say there are 120 projects impacted during the current health emergency.

Without ongoing government support for the exceptional creative talent that we have in the Australian screen industry, we will all be very much the poorer.

While Armstrong was at the Australian Film and Television School (now AFTRS), one among the first intake, an Aussie accent on screen was disconcerting, it was so rare, and local news was delivered in accents the BBC would have approved of.

Armstrong’s resolve to pursue a career in an industry that had not yet been established, is really admirable.

There were a few local films around, relating the sexual exploits of characters like Barry McKenzie and Alvin Purple, but two seriously powerful Australian stories by overseas directors appeared on screen in 1971. Walkabout and Wake in Fright still resonate today.

By the end of the decade, there were so many Australian films of fantastic quality, including Armstrong’s exquisite My Brilliant Career – that screened at the Cannes and New York festivals – that  the surge downunder was hailed as a new wave.

The first Mad Max, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Newsfront, Storm Boy, The Devil’s Playground, Long Weekend, Caddie, Don’s Party, and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith all appeared in the 1970s. Along with plenty of others well worth a mention.

The bilateral government support for a film industry that began in the late 1960s was realised by Australia’s screen industries, and they have continued going strong.

A stocktake of more recent films is very surprising and rewarding, a reminder of how richly we benefit from the film and television made in this country.

The 2000s kicked off with Andrew Dominik’s Chopper, based on a real-life criminal still serving time for murder. It certainly had impact, but I preferred the mockumentary indie about an underworld hitman that arrived a few years later from Scott Ryan, The Magician. It was cheeky, smart and less visceral.

Serenades, a dead-pan comedy from Shirley Barrett appeared the same year, with the tagline  ‘Two sisters will do anything to hook the right man’. It won a Camera d’Or at Cannes for best first feature.

Can it really be nearly 20 years since Lantana showed how subtle and compelling a local adult drama could be?  There was an abundance of talent involved on the project and it won many awards here and overseas, including a best screenwriter gong for Andrew Bovell. Director Ray Lawrence’s next film Jindabyne traced contentious territory but was also excellent.

Phillip Noyce’s The Quiet American in 2002 was given unaccountably short shrift by critics and audiences here, although it was a fine drama that captured the spirit of Graham Greene’s novel. I was glad to see it win prestigious awards in the UK and US.

The 2000s were an immensely productive time for writer-director Rolf de Heer, whose The Tracker with actor David Gulpilil in the lead appeared in 2002. It was quickly followed by Alexandra’s Project, a masterwork in the suburban thriller genre. His unique collaboration with the Yolngu people, Ten Canoes, audacious and whimsical by turns, was released in 2007.

Gulpilil’s performance was outstanding in The Tracker. He also had a small role in The Proposition, the brilliant outback western directed by John Hillcoat and written by Nick Cave that was released to general acclaim, though some took exception to the violence.

Did others take exception to the sex in Jane Campion’s psychological thriller, In the Cut? It certainly divided critics and audiences but this intense, sensual, psychological thriller deserved much more recognition than it received.

Rachel Perkins’ One Night the Moon appeared, as she was consolidating her career in Australian film and television. A collaboration with singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, it had a running time of under one hour but it was certainly compelling. In recent times, Perkins has directed the first season of Mystery Road and miniseries Total Control. Both exemplary TV drama.

Another Indigenous writer-director, Ivan Sen, arrived. His very impressive work includes the features Toomelah, Goldstone, and Mystery Road the film that inspired the popular television series of the same name. Sen made his fiction feature debut in 2003 with Beneath Clouds.

Australian comedy had an uneven run during the noughties but it doesn’t mean there wasn’t some first class work. Getting’ Square from Jonathan Teplitsky and Kenny by Shane Jacobson were equally hilarious.

The hard-to-pigeonhole asylum seeker drama, Lucky Miles, directed by Michael James Rowland, was a hoot. I also really enjoyed Ali’s Wedding, directed by Jeffrey Walker and written by Osamah Sami, very definitely a comedy, that was released in 2017. Sami has called it the first Muslim rom-com.

Teplitsky also had an international hit in The Railway Man, that elicited sensitive, intimate performances from major stars Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.

Writer-director Sarah Watt Look Both Ways, also about a couple dealing with trauma, was a miniature in comparison, and beautifully rendered at that.

Jane Campion’s Bright Star appeared in 2009 to a lukewarm reception. I thought it terrific though I’d admit to being a bit of a die-hard when it comes to this filmmaker.

I was also hugely impressed that same year by Rachel Ward’s Beautiful Kate, an intense, disturbing family drama in the gothic style.

And in 2014, The Babadook announced a bold new talent in director Jennifer Kent. It’s held in very high esteem by cinema horror cognoscenti. I just thought it was one of the most effective scare fests I’d ever watched.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse returned in 2015 with The Dressmaker, an outback western in which a stranger arrives in town with a sewing machine on her hip. It’s a flamboyant revenge comedy drama that, for all its colliding elements, works brilliantly.

That same year, George Miller took us on another exhilarating journey into the post-apocalyptic desert in Mad Max: Fury Road. It won wild praise from many critics and now holds the record for achievement by an Australian film at the Oscars, bypassing the previous record held by Campion’s The Piano.

Lion, directed by Garth Davis and based on a screenplay by Luke Davies and with a wonderful performance by Dev Patel, was another huge success here and overseas. Who didn’t love this film?

Another home grown favourite of the 2010s was The Sapphires. Impossible not to respond to its bouncing with irrepressible joy.

The 2010s have also seen the emergence of David Michod as a major creative talent. His pitch-black crime-family drama, Animal Kingdom, shook us up and launched the international careers of Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver. Michod’s The King last year was equally impressive.

Although there are so many contenders, my pick for the most outstanding Australian film of the last two decades has to be Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah. When I reviewed the film in 2009 I wrote that it announced a major new talent and could be come a modern classic. I think, as it turns out, that was the right call.

First published in the Canberra Times on 4 July 2020. Also published on Jane's blog

Featured image: Rowan McNamara in Warwick Thornton's Samson and Delilah (2009) 

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Body Electric

Photography Review by Brian Rope

Various artists: The Body Electric

National Gallery of Australia | Until 26 January 2021

The Body Electric presents works by 25 woman-identifying artists, pioneers with respect to recent photography and video. It is about sex, pleasure, and desire; celebrates women’s erotic experiences; explores stories of domestic intimacy and love; examines how women’s sexuality has historically been represented; and shows sex, love, and loss as an animating part of human experience.

On the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) website, Curator Anne O’Hehir highlights one of the artists, Nan Goldin. O’Hehir notes that, historically, photography has played a pivotal role in the way sex and sexuality are seen in society; images of women by heterosexual men for heterosexual men dominating. This exhibition reveals a different view to us. O’Hehir’s piece is well worth reading before visiting.

A tender image by Pixy Liao used on the NGA website to represent the exhibition on its listing of current exhibitions clearly illustrates intimacy. Her other works shown are sexy and surreal.

Pixy Liao - Some words are just between us from Experimental relationship 2010
chromogenic photograph, 40.6 (h) x 50.8 (w) cm
image courtesy of the artist

Australian Polly Borland is also represented. Others have said her artistic work tends to marry the infantile with a sexual interest in parts of the body other than the sexual organs. The examples here are consistent with that view.

Polly Borland - MORPH 9 2018
pigment inkjet print, 200 (h) x 162.5 (w) cm
image courtesy of the artist and Murray White Room, Melbourne
© Polly Borland

A 1976 work by Jo Ann Callis portrays an anonymous woman seated, holding a flashlight in one hand. Decide for yourself what her purpose is but, almost certainly, we are meant to think about masturbation.

Jo Ann Callis - Untitled (woman with flashlight) c 1976
pigment inkjet print, 40.6 (h) x 50.8 (w) cm
image courtesy of ROSEGALLERY, © the artist

Christine Godden shows us her own umbilicus in a simple selfie. The title of this work is Self. Sunny day in winter 1974. An alternate title used for this image is Jeans and jumper. Both titles are simple descriptions of things in the image, leaving the interpretation of it open to us as viewers. Many of Godden’s works are intended to show ‘how women see and how women think’.


Christine Godden - Self. Sunny day in winter 1974
gelatin silver photograph, 14.9 (h) x 22.6 (w) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
gift of the artist 1987, © the artist

Works by Nan Goldin are much more powerful. Again, titles are simple, but there is strong material in these images.

Nan Goldin - Nan and Brian in bed, NYC 1983
dye destruction photograph, 39 (h) x 59.9 (w) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
purchased 1994, © the artist

Likewise, to the casual observer, a beautiful backlit transparency by Petrina Hicks might be seen simply as a photo of a woman hiding her face behind a rather lovely conch shell. However, the shape of the shell immediately speaks of the pleasure and desire this exhibition is about.


Petrina Hicks - Venus from the series The Shadows 2013
backlit transparent archival film (lightbox), 118.5 (h) x 118.5 (w) cm
image courtesy the artist and Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin

Fiona Pardington rephotographed found erotic 1950s images of women. Intended for publication in men’s magazines as pornographic fodder, they fit neatly into her thinking that photography is deeply sexy.

Collier Schorr challenges binary notions of gender and sexuality, reflecting both her queerness and desire. She asserts that her photographs of men and boys are of ‘women’.

Francesca Woodman plays hide and seek with her own body, producing intense yet witty and playful images.

Claire Lambe contributes a provocative red image that allows viewers to muse extensively as to what she is seeking to say to us.

Claire Lambe - Untitled (red Emily) 2017

chromogenic photograph, 94 (h) x 140 (w) cm

image courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout Presents

An exhibition such as this must include work by Cindy Sherman. Here is a disturbingly explicit view of a female doll crouched on knees with a ready plastic orifice.

Cindy Sherman - Untitled #255 2018
chromogenic photograph, 114.9 (h) x 173.4 (w) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
purchased 1997, chromogenic print, © the artist

I invited my wife to accompany me to the exhibition so that I might witness her reactions and discuss the works. I also observed other visitors, mostly older women. But none of them, of whatever age or gender, revealed their thoughts to me.

Another of the included photographers, Annie Sprinkle, is quoted as saying “I want to tell women that they are sexually powerful beings, but they often don’t get in touch with it because they are socialised to please men.” Is that still true today? Each of us will have our own thoughts.

This review was originally commissioned by the Canberra Times but not used by them. I have also published on my personal blog today at

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Selby and Friends perform Beethoven’s 'Ghost.'

                                      Selby and Friends perform Beethoven’s 'Ghost.'

Selby and Friends: “Beethoven’s Ghost.” Artistic director/pianist, Kathryn Selby with guest artists, young Australian virtuoso violinist Harry Ward and Timo-Veikko Valve, principal cellist, ACO,  performed and filmed live at City Recital Hall, Sydney, July 6. Reviewed by Jennifer Gall

 Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1 No.3; Beethoven's Transcription of his Symphony No.2 and Piano Trio in D major, Op.70 No.1 'Ghost'.

 While the critics were divided in their opinions about Beethoven’s debut piano performance in March 1795, perhaps the most evocative account was written by virtuoso viola da gamba player and composer, Johannes Schenk when he described Beethoven’s playing:

It had the clarity of daylight at high noon! Casual figures developed into rich motifs, full of truth and beauty. Suddenly he changed into an entirely different key and expressed the most violent passion. More gentle modulations led in turn to a divine melody, and now, the bewitching tones of the piano became melancholy, playful and with a touch of roguery…. his playing was as superb as his inventiveness.

Selby and Friends captured the essence of the young Beethoven in this, the third concert of their 2020 season. A fresh addition to the ensemble was young violinist Harry Ward, who brought a combination of confidence and daring with his appearance. Timo-Veikko Valve is one of those extraordinary musicians who seems to have the notes leap towards him willingly from the instrument without seeming to expend too much effort. His touch on the finger board appears light and the arrow-sharp aim of his bowing leaves no room for slips or inaccuracies. Kathy Selby was at ease as piano anchor despite Beethoven’s demanding transcription of the Second Symphony piano trio.

This concert was filmed on the stage of the City Recital Hall, and the quality of the sound and the close-up photography was impeccable; the balance between the instruments perhaps the best I have heard for the line-up.  An on-line concert is an intriguing experience, as the proximity of the camera to the musicians suggests intimacy, but of course, the musicians are at an un-bridgeable distance from their audience. There may be a whole new area of academic inquiry into musical reception launched by the upsurge of online concerts stimulated by the pandemic!

The Trio Op.1 No.3 was a fitting beginning, with the seductive opening phrase leading onward from Ward’s violin into the body-swaying waltz-time melody embraced by the ensemble. There was a nice rapport between violin and cello and the tone of the instruments blended sympathetically - the stately opening chords rolling into a rollicking Allegro con brio tinged with a hint of Beethoven’s ‘roguery’. Following on, the Andante cantabile had a psalm-like beauty and equanimity, contrasting with the lively third movement Menuetto and resolution into a rousing final movement.

Beethoven’s reworking of his Second Symphony into a piano trio was a shrewd move creatively and financially. His admirers could hear and play the stirring composition in a new and more intense form. The dramatic dynamic and tempo contrasts worked extremely well in the smaller ensemble setting and Selby and Friend’s interpretation featured passionate interactions between the stringed instruments and a piano commentary varying from delicate remarks to emphatic interjections – as Schenk described, ‘rich motifs, full of truth and beauty’.

In the second, slow movement of The Ghost, we heard the loveliest moments of the concert. The Largo creates a sanctuary in the structure of the Trio, a reflective space after the energetic scalic passages of the opening movement leading into the Presto final movement – on this occasion played at a spacious and lively tempo with warmth and tenderness.

While we all look ahead to the return of live music concerts, we will remember these performances by Selby and Friends as oases in the strange 2020 world of Covid-19.