No-Nonsense Reviews 2019

Our reviews are invited. If a show does not appear, the company has chosen not to have it reviewed.

G & S Pleasures Come In Endless Ceres

For The Love Of Gilbert & Sullivan presented by Theatre Of The Winged Unicorn, Scarecrow Patch, Ceres, March 17, 2019.

Take a pair of sparkling eyes, and a voice to make you swoon; the ingredients comprise, of a splendid afternoon…

This delightful celebration of the works of the G & S was packed with sweet surprises. Firstly, there was the song selection, which went beyond the obvious to include some lesser-known but highly worthwhile numbers. We may not have met a modern Major-General, or heard a little list; but instead we were seduced by a couple of witty and wacky love duets in There Was A Time (from The Gondoliers) and Never Mind The Why And Wherefore (from HMS Pinafore) among the 22 slickly delivered non-stop songs.
We were enthralled by seven pirates advancing With Cat-Like Tread, enchanted by Three Little Maids From School, and agog at what Allister Cox got up to When He Was Alone And Unobserved. 

Allister served as the concert’s MC, giving occasional insights into the popularity and impact of WS Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan who were as dynamic a duo as Lennon and McCartney in their own time. Only funnier and more subtly socially cutting. 

Among this concert’s other surprises were the number and quality of performers - there were, at times, all seven singers with Sonoka playing the Baby Grand piano on the tiny Scarecrow Patch stage. Dancing! Such was the tightness of space and schedule that we audience were frequently treated to the spectacle of our performers wriggling to change their costumes, seated in venue’s one-metre-wide wings.

Those performers included the dashing Tim Hetherington, impressive Nadine Joy, splendid Miriam Wood, sterling David Marrie and admirable Ben Mitchell (this performance deserved, nay demanded, the dignified, courteous language of the times.) And those were alongside the versatile aforementioned Allister Cox and the truly memorable Jocelyn Mackay. The concert’s musical director and eighth performer, Lisa Breen, had been unable to appear due to illness, so Jocelyn had clearly taken on Lisa’s parts as well as her own. She appeared in 13 of the show’s 22 segments, faultlessly delivering each number with the correct nuances of grace, aplomb or jocularity.

And that overall level of impeccable performance was set and maintained by the immaculate piano accompaniment from the beautiful and elegant Sonoka Miyake. 

All up, this concert went well beyond the realms of a pleasant Sunday soiree.
To borrow from another generation, it was an afternoon delight.

* Since this review was published, TOWU co-founder, and concert director asked for the following credits to be included. The concert's  technical /lighting/piano  was by  Ben Mitchell; poster/digital Design by Claire Chilcott; front of house hosts were Kath O'Neil  and Alard Pett, and the director/producer Elaine Mitchell also created and/or supplied the costumes. 

- Colin Mockett

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GSO brings romance - and a sight for sore eyes

Two Romantics presented by Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Richard Davis, soloist Rio Xiang. Costa Hall, March 2, 2019.

Call it serendipity, happenstance, providence… Either way, it occurred to this critic at this concert.

It really began on Wednesday, when I had surgery to remove a cataract and place a new lens in my left eye.
By Saturday, I was seeing things with astonishing clarity and distinction. Not that that should have made any difference at the Geelong Symphony concert. This was, after all, showcasing the music of two great romantic composers, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. So it was to be a treat for the ears, not the eyes.
But then we were handed tickets to the third row, front and centre which allowed a remarkably close-up view of the pre-concert string section. With my new enhanced vision, I saw things unnoticed before. Like concertmaster Olivier Bonnici’s cheeky mustard-coloured socks, Emily Frazer’s look of concentration as she led the warm-up, lead cellist Timmothy Oborne’s laid-back stance contrasting Jamie Parker’s total concentration; violinist Eve Gu’s beautiful black-lace shoes…

Then guest conductor Richard Davis took the stage in full tail suit, white tie conflicting just a little with the GSO’s more relaxed outfits of men in dark lounge suits, women in black ensembles. 

Then the opening piece began. It was Brahms Academic Festival Overture Op. 80, and nicely suitable for Deakin University’s showplace hall with its themes of student drinking songs. It was presented in what is now the accepted GSO manner - neat, faultless delivery in cool professional style. 

Still I had no real inkling of what was to come as the Costa’s Steinway grand piano was moved centre-stage for the evening’s second piece of romance, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 Op.23. This was to be played by Rio Xiang, the young man who had won last year’s Youth Classical Music competition in Geelong, with appearing at this concert part of his prize. 

Rio is a tall, slender 20-year-old who appeared reserved, perhaps a little awkward as he took his welcome applause and sat at the piano. 

Conductor Richard Davis is, by contrast, an old hand. He’s chief conductor and head of orchestral studies at Melbourne Conservatorium and he regularly conducts orchestras worldwide including the BBC Philharmonic. He holds a top reputation for bringing the best out of orchestras and soloists, using a unique style of expressions, flourishes, smiles, frowns and gestures.
As this is directed at the players, it’s usually unseen by the audience who would simply see the back of that elegant tail suit.
Unless you happened to be in seat C30 in the Costa Hall, 2 metres away, in direct line of sight between conductor and soloist - and with newly enhanced vision. 

I can tell you this piece was enthralling. Illuminating. It was thrilling, compelling stuff, watching Rio’s pale long fingers dancing his keyboard for the 20-minute piece without sheet music while being wordlessly led, stimulated, encouraged by his conductor who twisted and turned to make eye contact while still in full control of the orchestra.
I should also add that the music was wonderful, faultless - and that it drew  long, loud applause and no fewer than four call-backs before the concert’s interval.

The concert’s second half consisted entirely of Brahms’ Symphony No 1 in C minor Op. 68 in its four movements. There was no piano, no Rio, just gorgeous, flowing, soaring lush romantic music played with the GSO’s gloss, style and verve. 

But, for me, it was just a bit anticlimactic following that (literally) brilliant Tchaikovsky piece. I felt privileged to have been in that place at that time.

So this concert redefined memorable for this critic, who now looks forward to hearing - and seeing - the GSO’s next concert, when the gorgeous Rebecca Chan plays all four of Vivaldi’s seasons. I just hope this vision enhancement doesn’t fade.

- Colin Mockett

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Beautiful music, perfect setting

Summer Sounds featuring Vox Angelica with elements from Geelong Symphony Orchestra, Geelong Gallery February 24, 2019

It takes something special for a concert to sell out a week ahead, especially one featuring classical music played and sung by lesser-known newish performers at an unusual time in an unfamiliar venue.
But that was the case with this concert, which paired the four-year-old Vox Angelica acappella choir with a sextet of young string players from Geelong Symphony Orchestra (which celebrates its third anniversary this month) in a 5.00pm concert at the Geelong Art Gallery. 

Though the two groups performed separately, their music perfectly complemented each other. 

And that capacity crowd, which I gauged to be an even mix of Gallery regulars and well-informed music patrons, turned out to be excellent judges, for the concert proved to be musically elegant with plenty of delightful surprises.

The first was the quality of the venue. Quite apart from its ambience - we were surrounded by our city’s choice artworks - the room’s dimensions, height and hard surfaces meant that it was acoustically brilliant, with every note clearly, distinctly audible.
There was not a microphone or speaker used, or needed.

Then there was the high quality of the material presented. The programme was loosely selected on the theme of ‘Summer’, but strayed into the realms of ABCFM’s ‘beautiful music’.

We began brightly with the GSO sextet - four violins, viola and cello, presenting Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins with Jamie Parker and Emily Frazer the two violin soloists.
Their faultless accomplished handling of the Baroque favourite, with its three subtle movements, drew enough warm strong applause to settle any nervousness for those performers to come, while setting a standard of excellence that was to be matched and occasionally surpassed.

For Vox Angelica followed. 22 accomplished adult voices that were not auditioned  - they were selected by director Tom Healey.
Master musician Tom introduced each song succinctly and authoritatively without reference to notes, then his choir delivered in rare style.
Their segment began with the 12th Century Sumer is acomin’ in, which, in common with Geelong’s summers, was delivered in 12 parts. This was, Tom explained, because they can.
This was followed by a simply exquisite treatment of Charles Villiers Standford’s The Bluebird, then another piece of delicate harmonies, this time the garden song Im Wald by Fanny Hensel, the sister (and acknowledged superior) of Felix Mendelssohn. Then followed four modern songs, each with its own challenges and delights. Eric Whitacre’s tricky The Marriage was neatly balanced by Clare Maclean’s We Welcome Summer, while Ian Grandage’s Sunset was followed (naturally) by Morten Lauridsen’s Sure On This Shining Night.
All were delivered with accomplished skill, all were warmly received and all loudly applauded. The room’s acoustics resonated to that, too. Then the six young GSO musicians returned, to be joined by Tom Healey on Continuo, and together they finished the afternoon with a flawless, intense rendition of Summer, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with soloist Jamie Parker excelling, along with cellist Timmothy Oborne, and the septet drawing a storm of long, loud applause. 

Jamie is deputy concertmaster to Geelong’s GSO, which has a Two Romantics concert in the Costa Hall this coming weekend. 

That concert’s concertmaster, Olivier Bonnici, was at the gallery to witness to his deputy’s skill. He had to be. He was singing tenor with Vox Angelica.

Such were the surprises in what was essentially a delightful afternoon of beautiful music in a perfect setting.

 Here’s to the next time.

— Colin Mockett


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Geelong's Les Mis - A Powerful Musical Force

Les Miserables directed by Alister Smith for Footlight Productions. Playhouse Theatre January 19, 2019

There’s a six-part BBC adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables currently airing on British TV that’s attracted a flood of viewer complaints because it has no music. ‘Why Can’t We Hear The People Sing?’ say the British headlines, and it was even brought up in parliament. The furore highlighted the fact that the world’s most popular musical has entrenched its anthems into people’s minds, more so than the novel’s storyline.
But those whinging viewers would have no problem at all with the new Footlight version of Les Mis that’s currently gracing GPAC’s stage, because this was a show built around its musical excellence. 

It was driven by John Shawcross’s top-quality 16-piece orchestra which interpreted the show’s tricky cadences and repeated themes without missing a beat or hitting a wrong note.
And that high musical standard was mirrored by everyone on-stage, from the emotional leads - Brad Beales’ sensitive Jean Valjean, Vaughn Rae’s stoic Javert, Nicole Kaminski’s tragic Fantine - through to every support and member of the ensemble. The entire cast must have been selected for their vocal abilities because they all wore head-mics, and every one of the many big production scenes was memorable because of the power, or delicacy, of their combined voices. Much credit is due to the show’s vocal director, Anna-Lee Robertson, for moulding such a potent chorus. Kudos, too, to director Alister Smith’s pair of movement/choreographers, Brenton Cosier and Elinor Smith Adams, along with lighting designer Daniel Jow for the neat trick of starting each production number with what was essentially a tableaux. This appeared almost as a reproduction of a Vermeer-style street scene, but one which almost instantly morphed into musical life. It must have taken months of planning and rehearsal to achieve such simple elegance. And it was certainly helped by the show’s sombre iron-black set, with two steep black wheeled staircases manoeuvred by cast members to create smooth scene-changes. But , for this reviewer, the show’s stand-out elements came from the assembled male chorus under the leadership of rebel students Tom Phyland, Charlie McIntyre, Jonathon Gardner, Thomas Membrey, Elija Ivelja, Ash Chapel and others. This assembled group, which included at times Nick Addison, Josh McInnes, Aidan O’Cleirigh, Richard Senftleben, David Van Etten and Jordan Ybarzabal, provided the strong, vibrant male vocal base for the show-stopping signature ‘Hear The People Sing’ battle anthems. This team's sure voices and secure harmonies gave the whole production its power. This neatly contrasted the pathos wrung by Nicole’s Fantine, and especially, Morgan Heynes’ doomed Eponine. Her rendition of On My Own brought loud sobs from a woman sitting behind me, and the soft sounds of tissues extracted from boxes continued through the next few scenes.
But for all its musical, visual and emotional excellence, not all the innovations in this production worked. For this reviewer, the rogue Thenardier innkeeping couple of Greg Shawcross and Hayley Wood, though faultless in their performances, came across as grotesque pantomime caricatures, rather than devious villains.  And some lighting effects, which were, at times excellent in highlighting emotions and disguising scene-changes, occasionally dazzled when strong spotlights were directed straight into the audience. 

But that’s carping criticism of what was essentially a production of uniform, overall excellence. Most especially musically. 

It’s a show with surprising topical relevance, too, given the ongoing yellow vest protests in Paris, not to mention the British House of Commons calling for its songs to be broadcast.
So don’t miss this Les Mis. It’s good enough to drive a Pommie tourism push.

— Colin Mockett

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Standing ovation for a truly magnificent event

Geelong Summer Music Camp Showcase Concert at the Costa Hall, Friday January 18, 2019

This was the 39th annual Summer Music Camp Concert, and the 19th held in the Costa Hall. Those figures cover a trio of significant factors.  First, the camp, and its subsequent concert, are now second-generational, being organised by musicians who were past participants, and therefore have first-hand experience of what is at base an intense five-day series of musical masterclasses. Secondly, that system encourages friendship and camaraderie, so a  majority of the musicians and tutors taking part were regulars returning for what has become a familiar annual experience.
And thirdly, the tradition of working towards a final concert in the Costa Hall - Geelong’s premier musical venue - is now so entrenched that it holds no fears to either organisers or participants.
So presenting a slick and spectacular show using some 300 musicians with musical genres  ranging from  Welsh hymn to light classics, via big band and film musicals, and finishing with a spectacular all-on-stage finale would have been considered hard work, but not particularly stressful for them.  Because they have literally been doing it for years.
But for us in the audience, it was astonishing in its scale, width of material and skilled musical standards.
If this concert had been presented by a touring group of professionals, it would have been hailed as outstanding and memorable.
Because it was a display of slick, polished musical assurance from eight distinct groups with every musician under the age of 21.  
Each component part, linked by a loose common ‘Carnival’ theme, built to a big 'Greatest Showman' finale.  
It then drew three encores and a standing ovation.

But the most amazing, gob-smacking thing about this concert was that it was put together in just five days. 

Read that again. Then realise that when those 240 young people aged between nine and 21 came together in Geelong on Monday morning, none of them had seen any of the scores. They didn't  even know what type of music they would be learning to play on the Costa’s prestigious stage IN  FIVE DAYS. 

So above all, I guess,  this super show was testament to the astonishing  ability of the young brain to absorb information, and overcome pressure - given the right input and leadership.

I know that it’s normal for reviewers to list then critique each part of a concert, but I’m not inclined to do that here. Instead, I’ll say that this was among the best GSMC Showcase I’ve attended in its structure, overall competence and smooth operation. And that was probably due to it having a stable control team that has learned from, and built upon all those previous  experiences.
So instead of appraising, I’d like to list, and acknowledge the people who planned, then executed such a wonderful event. They provided the  musical expertise  so eagerly absorbed by their young charges.
At the top is musical director, Fiona  Gardner, and her committee of Shannon Ebeling (president) Leanne McCartney (vice president), Michael and Glenda Wilding, Ben Anderson, Helen Bourke, Kevin Cameron, Trish Kinrade, David Gardner, Rose Humphrey, Lesley Walters and Cathy Blake.
Then there’s their conductors; Robert Moffatt, Amberley Bremner, Sean Rankin, Ryan Bentley, James deRozario and Edward Fairlie. Their super talented arranger/accompanist Kym Dillon and their musical tutors Cathy Blake, Ben Castle, Jamie Parker, Jess Higgins Anderson, Timmothy Oborne, Michelle John, Luke Richardson Jonathan Woods and Martin DeMarte (strings); Brighid Mantelli, Kathryn Saunders, David Gardner, Kate Martin, Ben Anderson, Natalia Edwards, Adrian Meyer, Robert Moffatt (wind); Jacqui Anderson, Sharon Huber, Sean Laughran, Bryan Anderson (percussion) and Tania Grant, Jodie Townsend and Casey Reid (choir).
The concert was linked with energetic charm by Brian Alexander, who was another long-term participant, having children involved in the camps for most of the Costa years.

Together, this small team, their families and friends brought together a Geelong musical event like no other, one that truly deserved the title ‘magnificent’.
— Colin Mockett

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Unexpectedly satisfying concert in a new venue

Bach To The Bush a concert from Anthony Albrecht at the Geelong Boat House, Sunday January 13, 2019

This unheralded, largely unpublicised concert from travelling British cellist Anthony Albrecht was an unexpected musical pleasure. 

Anthony has been exploring the backroads of Australasia intermittently for the past four years presenting this concert in scratch venues. These had, we heard, mostly been researched and discovered on the internet by the artist himself.

The Geelong concert was, he thinks, his 70th. Or perhaps his 72nd. Either way, it was an exceptionally polished performance that was very well received by an appreciative audience that had, itself, been notified by social media and on-line sources including this website.
It’s something of an achievement today for a classical musician to stage a solo tour without backing or financing from any government or private source. To do so to the extent that Anthony has achieved is remarkable, and I would venture, unique.
It not only sets out an innovative new path for other young musicians to follow - it may well have also gifted Geelong a new performance venue. Because this concert was apparently organised by Anthony last week while he was in the Hunter Valley, NSW. Knowing he was booked next week in Tasmania, he looked for an unusual venue in Geelong to break his journey. Finding the Boat House on Google Maps, he noted its seafront location, contacted the venue’s owner, who swiftly agreed - and this concert was set up with six days’ notice. 

‘I probably should have changed the title from Bach to the Bush to Bach to the Bay,’ Anthony said in his introduction, looking out at the background seascape. ‘But I really didn’t think of it in time’. 

The Geelong Boat House is the fish & chip restaurant that projects into the sea at Western Beach. It has a licensed function room behind its shopfront, where two French doors open to seaborne decking. It would seat, at a guess, 80 people. Toward the end of Anthony’s performance, venue owner Malcolm pronounced the occasion a surprise success, and said he would welcome similar performances in the future. 

Given this short-notice background, the concert was understandably low-key and simple. There was no programme, so this review is compiled from memory and sketched notes. There was no lighting on the performer, and no amplification, either. They weren’t needed. Such was the selection of material and quality of musicianship that the audience was enthralled by the music and charmed by the artist’s frank and detailed introductions. 

Anthony Albrecht is no hopeful newcomer. He’s an established, accomplished and sought-after cellist of international renown. Newcastle-born and London based, he trained at the Juilliard School in New York.
That experience was evident from the outset, because his first piece was tricky - and Australian. It was Reclaiming The Spirit, written by Sarah Hopkins in 1993 on the handing back of Uluru to its traditional owners. In this, Anthony’s cello accurately replicated the sounds of the didgeridoo.

This was followed by the first of two of Bach’s Cello Suites, starting appropriately with Suite No.1 in G major.
This well-known piece was delivered on Anthony’s 300-year-old cello in the original Baroque style. This meant it had no floor-spike, but was gripped between the knees.
The sound was clear, clean and precise in spinning out Johan Sebastian’s intricate, elaborate musical patterning.
This was due, Anthony explained, to the use of authentic gut-wound strings and an old-style bow that was weighted differently to modern versions. He also explained that the glory of Bach’s music was his extensive use of the mathematical ‘golden ratio’ found throughout nature.  

Following a short interval, and a second Bach Suite, this time in D minor, ‘The key of loss… The most poignant key of all…’, Anthony revealed that his cello had a Geelong connection.

It had been bought from the estate of Francesca Rousseaux, the much-loved Geelong musical identity who died in 2013.
I’m certain that Francesca would have approved. Doubly so when Anthony said he now called the cello ‘Francesca’. 

‘I’m a custodian, just as Francesca was. I hope to hand it on in as good condition as she did..’ 

In all, this Bach To The Bush was fascinating, enlightening and musically enthralling. It was also satisfying, on so many levels. 

Watch out for an unheralded appearance near you - and keep an eye on this site for the next time that Anthony Albrecht returns to the Geelong Boat House venue.

— Colin Mockett

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