Saturday 13 May 2017


The sheer variety of musical experiences enjoyed by RSMC audiences was no better illustrated than in this terrific programme of Spanish music for piano and castanets (in their own arrangements) presented by Deanna Blacher OAM and Neville Cohn.  It was a rare chance to hear a virtuoso on the castanets, those small shell-like percussion instruments which are attached by a cord to each hand, and in Deanna Perth is forunate in having in our midst probably the only such exponent in Australia, and one with an international reputation.  Her partner Neville provided the ‘chords and keys’ at the piano, and again this was a rare treat – although best known these days as music critic for The West Australian, we were reminded that Neville had a long career as official accompanist for the South African Broadcasting Corporation before coming to Perth.

In a series of mid-eighteenth century sonatas by Padre Antonio Soler, a successor to Domenico Scarlatti, as well as by lesser known contemporaries Freixanet, Cantallos and Casanovas, Neville played with exemplary clarity and elegance, while Deanna complemented exactly the courtly style with expertly integrated rhythmic clicks and occasional flourishes on various pairs of wooden castanets.  More modern synthetic pairs were then used for a selection of four of the Danzas Españolas (Spanish Dances) by Granados – whose unfortunate demise by drowning in 1915 was solemnly recounted by Neville.  The best known of these pieces is Andaluza, and the concert ended with another quite extended work of the same name by Manuel de Falla.  While composed over a century later than the sonatas in the earlier part of the programme, a clear stylistic lineage from them to Granados and de Falla could nevertheless be detected.

Deanna used nine different pairs of castanets during the concert.  Somewhat like the didjeridu one wonders how an extended use of such instruments can avoid a sense of monotony, and it is only in the hands of such a virtuoso as this that the available  range of subtle variations can be observed.  Full marks to Deanna and Neville for what was such an instructive and enjoyable evening.

John Meyer