Sascha Kelly

Articles by Sascha Kelly

July 12, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Handel: Theodora (Les Arts Florissants/William Christie)

You have to admit, Handel knew how to craft a drama equal with the best at HBO. Theodora is a masterpiece, and with the drama focussed on the relationships between the central four characters, superbly sung, this is a story that resonates easily with modern audiences. With unity in direction, concept and lighting, this is a fantastic production. Although he’s top billing, Philippe Jaroussky (Didyme) is the weakest member of this ensemble of singing actors. Vocally, he is stunning, but a stronger presence on stage would have made more of the juxtaposition between the feminine quality of his vocal tone and the traditional heroism of his character. The soldier’s physicality is a little uncomfortable, and in stark contrast to his masculine costuming. However, Kresimir Spicer (Septime) is so astonishingly good that the comparison is a little unfair. He sails through the notorious Dread the Fruits of Christian Folly, with gravity defying coloratura while Descend, Kind Pity reveals his astonishing legato. The female cast is just as strong. Katherine Watson (Theodora) is youthful and sweet, balancing the steel and sweetness of the martyr. Her Irene is the captivating Stephanie d’Oustrac, whose extraordinary presence translates effortlessly to screen. William Christie paces superbly…

April 7, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Strauss: Waltzes and Arias (Lorina Gore, Tasmanian SO/Marko Letonja)

It’s often been said that the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is one of Australia’s best kept secrets. This nimble outfit tackles a vast range of repertoire with the greatest ease. While Viennese waltzes might not be seen as the height of musical sophistication, they are deceptively challenging, and when performed well can be the perfect antidote to a miserable mood. While this compilation headlines Johann Strauss II, it also features equally charming selections from Josef Strauss, Franz von Suppé and Franz Lehár to round out the collection. The album is peppered with items that feature soprano Lorina Gore, who is in her element throughout. A particular highlight is the Lehár item, Giuditta’s Meine lippen, sie küssen so heiß, where she showcases the lovely colour in the lower depths of voice. The Tasmanian orchestra is in fine form and conductor Marko Letonja demonstrates his versatility throughout, choosing careful tempo relationships that allow these delicate waltzes to truly sing. The wistful and elegant opening to the work Seid umschlungen, Millionen! (Be embraced, Ye Millions!) is the hidden gem at the heart of this album. Johann Strauss II dedicated it to his friend Brahms, and it’s an example of the complex balance of sweetness…

November 25, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: The Romantic Piano Concerto 68: Moszkowski

Hyperion deserves its reputation for uncovering hidden gems of the Romantic piano repertoire. This latest recording debuts an early concerto of Moszkowski that was only uncovered in 2008. The conductor, Vladimir Kiradjiev, deemed it too good to remain unpublished (as the composer himself wished) and it was issued by French publishers in 2013. The same conductor leads an impressive BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra through the work. It’s an instantly likeable piece, brimming with tuneful themes, but not without the rhapsodic fever expected of a pianistic showstopper. The soloist, Ludmil Angelov, is known as an interpreter of Chopin, and brings a sparkling dexterity to the faster passages. The second movement is particularly moving, the second theme emerging on the piano from the midst of the chorale previously played by the orchestra. The wonderful stillness is reminiscent of Rachmaninov, though it predates him by a quarter of a century. Angelov is charming throughout, and though the final movement is a little long-winded, it’s a fine recording that should help the piece enter the repertoire. The disc concludes with Schulz-Evler’s Russian Rhapsody, another work deserving of greater acclaim. Angelov again demonstrates his astonishing quick-silver technique in a work of incredible virtuosity, building in…

September 29, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Rosetti: Sinfonias and Concerti

It’s a bizarre feeling to listen to a world premiere recording of works finished in the 18th century. Compagnia di Punto, a modular ensemble specialising in historical interpretations of early music, have released the first recordings of a handful of Antonio Rosetti’s last works. A contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, in his time he was praised as “one of the most beloved composers”. After listening to the disc, I agree, and I’m wondering why I haven’t heard Rosetti more. This disc features a variety of Rosetti’s works, three sinfonias and two concerti – one for flute and the other for natural horn. Many composers are flippantly compared to Mozart, but in this instance the comparisons are warranted. The opening bars of the first sinfonia throw me straight into the midst of The Marriage of Figaro. Compagnia di Punto musicians do use historical instruments, and so this adds an earthy, rustic quality to the balance, much like a hearty soup. It’s especially evident in the wind parts, where the articulation is rough, or the pitch is slightly bent for further emphasis. Sure, it’s different from the polished interpretation you expect from a ‘classical’ recording, but it adds an infectious enthusiasm to…

September 9, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Conversed Monologue (Fantasticus XL)

With some recordings, there is a risk of fatigue – a collection of works by the same composer, or for the same instrumentation, too similar in taste and sound. This is not the case with the latest release from the effervescent Fantasticus XL. This is not a vanilla performance by any means as this singular ensemble attacks a selection of baroque concerti with contagious energy. Johann Gottlieb Graun’s Viola da Gamba Concerto in C opens, and it sets an impressive benchmark. Soloist Robert Smith’s performance possesses the flexibility of a complex Pinot – in a matter of moments, his rich, layered tone will give way to an athletic tenor in the highest register. It’s an exposing piece, and Smith pushes and pulls the tempo to frequently unexpected delight. Jean-Marie Leclair’s Violin Concerto in G Minor is next, and Baroque violinist Rie Kimura maintains the sweetest of monologues while the ensemble brings the rumble to the sound, creating shade, by leaning in to moments of harmonic uncertainty. A Harpsichord Concerto in F by WF Bach completes the set. As a vehicle for Guillermo Brachetta’s virtuosity, it ticks all the right boxes as he flies through the quicksilver technical passages (especially in…

August 19, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Saimir Pirgu: Il Mio Canto

This recording opens on a high, with Saimir Pirgu’s opening cry “O inferno!” from Simon Boccanegra. He is taking no prisoners. All at once there is much to be excited by as you hear a muscular, athletic tone coming from a handsome, young Albanian tenor. Maybe we’ve discovered the natural successor to Jonas Kaufmann? Upon further listening though, the initial enthusiasm fades. The album serves up a main course of meaty Verdi arias, with side dishes of Donizetti, Cilea, Gounod, Massenet, Strauss and Puccini. It’s a mixed bag. Quite simply, Pirgu – occasionally capable of divine sounds – consistently over-sings and often doesn’t seem to be in complete control of his instrument. The famous Che Gelida Manina, seems stilted and Pirgu doesn’t create enough light and shade for a love-stricken hero. The first two lines of Salut! Demeure chaste et pure create a delicious sense of bel canto legato, but Pirgu can’t seem to sustain it as the aria continues.There are moments of glorious beauty, however, like the aria from Cilea’s L’Arlesiana, which Pirgu sings with simplicity and gravitas. It’s the highlight of the disc. It can’t be denied that Pirgu has an astonishingly beautiful voice, but pressure and force means…

May 19, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Mendelssohn: Solo Piano Works (Howard Shelley)

This release is consistent with Hyperion’s reputation for creating warm, engaging records matched with exceptional sound. On this fourth volume, Howard Shelley tackles the Opus 35 set of Preludes and Fugues, Mendelssohn’s most substantial opus for solo piano, and pairs it with the popular fifth book of Songs Without Words. Shelley makes a strong case for these Bach-influenced studies. One listen leaves you in no doubt of his musicianship in an album executed with pristine attention to detail – his dexterity is especially on trial in the faster movements. Of particular note is the Prelude in B Minor, while the unpublished  Andante Cantabile and Presto Agitato are something else. Shelley plays with quicksilver speed and agility, but never seems to over-pump the gas. He maintains a reserved, agile, darting sound that dances up and down the keyboard with ease. In the exquisite fifth book of Songs without Words, a lesser pianist might milk phrases or revel in their sentimentality, a tendency that Shelley avoids perfectly. Instead, he marries an understanding of these wonderful Romantic phrases with the clarity that one would expect in Bach. The closing Spring Song is elegant and full of colour. This fine new recording demonstrates why…

March 23, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Pleasure Garden (Genevieve Lacey)

This latest recording from Genevieve Lacey might seem a little whimsical, however this is the closest thing to a classical ‘concept album’, that I’ve encountered, and it is worth consideration.The recording focusses on Lacey performing the music of 17th-century Dutch musician Jacob van Eyck. Encasing these small monophonic treasures is music co-composed by Lacey with the record’s producer Jan Bang. The centrepiece of the album seems to be Jacob van Eyck’s Amarilli, best known for its inclusion in the Italian Songbook for young vocalists. In Lacey’s hands, it’s a work of haunting purity. It returns in variation throughout the album, and in each rendition its stillness creates a moment of peace. The pieces by Bang and Lacey fuse technology and nature. A range of captured sounds are used, including unusual performance techniques like flutter-tonguing, pitched bells, layered drones on various recorders and perhaps most blatantly, the different songs of birds. Each work seems to be Lacey’s mediation on a given sound. My favourite moment was a fragment of Bermagui Dawn, where among the bird calls, a fragment of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue emerges only to disappear once more.  Despite comprising shorter works, this album is best listened to in its…

December 22, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Russian Cello (Zoe Knighton, Amir Farid)

If there is one nationality who really wrote with hearts on sleeves, it was the Russians. If there is an instrument that can really explore torment, it’s the cello. Russian Cello, is a wonderfully colourful project for Zoe Knighton and Amir Farid who deliver a selection from known masters (Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev) and less-known contemporaries (Glière, Gretchaninov and Sokolov).  The duo start with an exquisite rendition of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise that allows Knighton to warm up her thrilling tenor-sound, sensitively accompanied by Farid. The programming continues with other ‘songs without words’, including an enchanting Album Leaf from Glière followed by Stravinsky’s eccentric, folk-inspired Chanson Russe. The playing goes up a gear with a pair of Glazunov items, beginning with Chant du Ménéstrel. Knighton’s portamento is suitably full of woe and in the substantial Elégie she really gets to show much more range, muscling into her lowest register with grit. Farid is an attentive partner in crime. Both are attuned to each other’s subtle musical choices.  Gretchaninov’s Sonata is the first long-form piece on the album. With charming interjections from the piano and a pretty melody for the cello it’s a lovely warm up for Prokofiev’s Sonata, which gives Knighton and Farid…

November 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Adam: Giselle (Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Fraillon)

In the ballet world, Adam’s Giselle is almost as often performed as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. However on the concert stage, it hasn’t achieved the same popularity as its Russian cousins. Despite the efforts of this beautiful recording by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, expertly led by Nicolette Fraillon, it’s not hard to understand why. Adam’s buoyant melodies aren’t as charming as those in a Strauss waltz and there isn’t the same melodrama as you hear in Tchaikovsky’s famous ballets. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra with Fraillon at the helm do play Adam’s score stylishly and without fault, once again proving they are one of Australia’s most versatile orchestras. Their balance in the romantic orchestration has wonderful depth and is consistently lush. The frequent woodwind details are delightfully delivered, notably the interchanging flute and clarinet solos. Giselle and Albrecht’s Pas de Deux reveals the strength of individual players, with all the soloists playing with poise, especially the opening cellist.  This disc is marketed toward the dance student, with the inclusion of ten alternative dance solos at varying tempi designed to suit differences in choreography or a dancer’s individual technique. If you are a fan of Adam’s music, or you are a…

October 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Amir Farid plays Javad Maroufi

Javad Maroufi is credited as one of the first composers of piano music in Persia and is renowned for his significant contribution to Persian classical music. Inspired by their common heritage, Australian-Persian pianist Amir Farid has long been familiar with the composer’s work – indeed, Maroufi’s compositions were some of the first that Farid performed in public as a child. It’s fitting then that Maroufi’s body of work forms the basis of his wonderful second solo album.  The pieces on this disc fuse the Western language of Chopin with the modal folk melodies of Persia, resulting in a journey through a collection of deceptively simple piano works. The Preludes in particular pay homage to Maroufi’s Polish counterpart.  Farid is the perfect interpreter of these tiny gems. One technical trial is the use of a rapid right-hand tremolo, imitating the sound of the Santur, a Persian dulcimer. Farid sustains these rollicking repeated notes with an almost vocal quality. The melodic lines require rapid embellishments, which Maroufi allows the performer to add at their discretion. It’s through these subtle inferences that Farid demonstrates his intimate understanding while getting a chance to show his virtuosic chops in the demanding Charagh-e-Esfahan.  If there is…

July 24, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: The Chopin Album (Sol Gabetta, Bertrand Chamayou)

★★★★☆ A title like The Chopin Album, might lead you to expect a disc from the latest pianistic talent, but happily on this occasion it’s a collection of repertoire for cello and piano duo from close friends, cellist Sol Gabetta and pianist Bertrand Chamayou. The stunning centrepiece is the significant Cello Sonata in G Minor. The complexity of the first movement alone is a marvel, and it’s a shame the piece isn’t more widely known. Gabetta talks about approaching Chopin as a bel canto composer, who was always aware of a ‘vocal’ line in the music. It’s a fitting analogy and Chamayou and Gabetta show great sensitivity towards the primary melody, while still uncovering Chopin’s rich polyphony. The Largo movement is achingly beautiful, without becoming too overly sentimental.  The militaristic Polonaise Brilliante provides both Chamayou and Gabetta with plenty of virtuosic scope and both performers relish the opportunity. The remainder of the album serves as a tribute to the friendship between Chopin and respected cellist Auguste-Joseph Franchomme. The two men co-authored the Grand Duo Concertant and worked independently on arrangements and transcriptions of Chopin’s music. An original work of Franchomme’s is included on the album, the Nocturne for Cello and…