Heaven-Haven: in memory of Thomas Kelly.

July 15th, 2014

Heaven Haven webIt is very often the most everyday of people who leave us with the most profound of legacies and it is through this newly released compilation of music by composer, Phillip Wilcher, that the souls and spirits of some remarkable individuals are celebrated and enriched with remembrance.

Released by Wirripang in 2014, Heaven-Haven is dedicated to the family of eighteen year-old Thomas Kelly  in memory of their beloved son and brother who was fatally injured by a single king-hit punch on a Sydney street on the 7th July, 2012. The following review is of selected tracks from the CD from which the profits of sales will be donated to the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundationthe inspiration behind the music is drawn from the lives of people who the music honours – the reward of such lies as much for them and their memory as for those today who knew and love them.

[1] Heaven-Haven (2012) The Linden String Quartet : Inspired initially by the poem of the same name by Gerard Manley Hopkins, this piece evolved into a dedication to a precious young life stolen forever in an unprovoked moment of pointless violence. Performed by the Linden String Quartet, this is a leader-driven piece which brings forth an impassioned search for reason from Marina Marsden on first violin, close interplay from Emily Long’s 2nd violin and Justine Marsden’s viola with a richly melodic bass from the cello. Deeply moving.

Producer: Dr Houston Dunleavy. Engineer: Simon Todkill.

[4] Ballade (2002) Jeanell Carrigan, piano: Love this piece! this very familiar three-part musical form is controlled with incredible dexterity by the pianist. Unpredictable harmonies in the first section are presented with breathtaking mastery combining demanding cross-rhythms between two hands and impassioned expression before an extraordinary transition into the most delicately lyrical passage. This piece not only demonstrates the pianist’s virtuosity but also how effective the use of a striking range of dynamics can create fluidity and continuity in a very complex piece of music. Amazing!

Engineer: Danielle McWilliam

[6] Forever Beneath the Waves (2003) Jeanell Carrigan, piano: Close your eyes and Jeanell Carrigan takes you to sea in this delightfully upbeat, ‘twinkly’ piece with a light and breezy rhythm. The pianist delivers an effortless cross-rhythm between both hands and yet ensures the ear does not stray from the melodic line. The closing bars bring you gently back to shore as if waking from a pleasant dream.

Engineers: Peter Freeman and Lachlan Lacey

[7] High Tea 1 (2012): The Linden String Quartet: This piece took me back to a time of grace and gentility, one can imagine this piece being played on board the Titanic to the gentle clink of fine china and discreet, refined chatter. I particularly love the interchange between Justine Marsden’s viola and Elizabeth Neville’s cello towards the end of the piece, both played with a richness of tone that is truly satisfying before the first violin takes over one last time and sings the piece to an end of such sweetness.

Producer: Dr Houston Dunleavy. Engineer: Simon Todkill

[8 & 10] Intermezzo 1 & 2 (1994) Jeanell Carrigan, piano: Written as companion pieces, the two complement each other beautifully and, for me, there is a natural progression from one to the next. Intermezzo 1 is subtly moulded by the pianist around the composers musical ideas of poetic expression. The left hand provides some strong passages that are tempered with soft dynamic shadings. I love the brief ‘silence’ just before the finish. Intermezzo 2 is finely crafted piece in both composition and performance that seems to be speaking to itself in a spirit of affectionate reminiscence. Exquisite phrasing throughout the piece and a sense of ‘underplaying’ takes it to a final point of disappearance that is meltingly vivid. These two works, I feel, are best enjoyed back to back in order to understand the poetic element however they also stand as two very individual works.

Engineer: Danielle McWilliam

[13] In Nomine Patris (2012) The Linden String Quartet: Inspired by a dream featuring Michelangelo’s great sculpture Pieta, this piece reflects the classical study in sorrow created in marble by the artist during the Renaissance. This piece is a dedication in memoriam to Denise Bassanelli, a mother who fought a brave battle against cancer for 17 years until the disease claimed her life in 2012. The connection between the inspiration and the dedication of this piece is remarkable; a sculpture depicting a mother holding her departed son inspiring a piece dedicated to a departed mother who is held in the heart of a beloved son. The piece, played with little to almost no vibrato, has a true Renaissance flavour blending the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism. Justine Marsden’s viola begins with a solo passage that is gradually embraced by the other strings to create a sense of a sorrow that can be shared with others but rarely understood by them.

Producer: Dr Houston Dunleavy. Engineer: Simon Todkill

[17] Remembered on Waking (2012) The Linden String Quartet:  Dedicated to a remarkable young man, Ben Breedlove, who passed away at the age of 18 from a heart condition in 2011, this piece begins with a beautifully modulated motif between 2nd violin and viola which is then joined in a moment of intense sensitivity by the first violin. The phrasing by Marina Marsden’s first violin  draws the melody line  along carefully in a recitative-like solo, with well judged restraint so as to allow the mood to be shaped into one of wistful yearning. This piece ebbs and flows along on the subdued richness of Elizabeth Neville’s cello bass line carrying it to a delicate and sensitive ending, reflecting the memory of a fine young spirit that touched and continues to touch many.

Producer: Dr Houston Dunleavy. Engineer: Simon Todkill.

This CD stands as a wonderful dedication to the family of Thomas Kelly and their aim to further the awareness of the need to remove violence from our streets and promote a culture in which life is respected and valued.

Piano: Jeanell Carrigan

The Linden String Quartet: Marina Marsden, Violin; Emily Long, Violin, Justine Marsden, Viola; Elizabeth Neville, Cello.

Produced by Wirripang Pty Ltd.




Goldleafing a Dream….gilding the notes of an eternal structure.

July 8th, 2012

‘Goldleafing a Dream’.…I just love the title of this CD of the works of composer Phillip Wilcher. Having spent the past several months listening to this music played by Rachel Tolmie (oboe/cor anglais), Amanda Muir (flute) and John Martin (piano), I very much was struck by the feeling of being present within an artist’s studio and witnessing the process of taking a moving structure and gilding it to preserve and enhance the elements of it’s beauty and influence. Dreams are the structures of the mind – passageways through which we move when we are least able to control direction….but we are always moving in them – either towards or away from the intangible – and what better way to understand and preserve the influence of a dream than to burnish it with gold so that it lasts for eternity…? that is what this musical collaboration somehow magically achieves and I will use excerpts from the 27 tracks – my favorite selected pieces – from this recording to illustrate what is a remarkable, and in places, a quite personal musical journey from the composer’s heart to the listener’s ear.

[1] ‘Goldleafing a Dream’ oboe and piano: written for the illuminist, Danette Wallace, this piece has two contrasting actions. The oboe begins on a phrase that I feel is one of seeking, or searching; that first movement of the hand over the canvas made by an artist. The oboe creates an image of fluid creativity, smooth and confident, with the piano providing thoughtful inspiration. This piece is a landscape of colour and movement, elegant and transparent; the oboe beautifully controlled by Rachel Tolmie with the familiar comforting warmth of John Martin’s piano accompaniment underlying the phrasing.

[2] ‘How Sweet the Moonlight Sleeps’ oboe and piano: without a doubt this is my favorite piece from this CD. The title is taken from the reading from Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’…

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here we will sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness, and the night,
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

Moonlight is the close of day and one feels the the stillness of night falling from the piano’s opening notes. The piano provides a lush and resonant mist through which the oboe ‘wanders’ with a wistful yearning; a forest of shimmering, silvery light in a world of darkness – the piano and oboe reflecting the tranquility and harmony that is only found when all but the senses of touch and sound are asleep. I particularly love the role that the composer has given the piano in this piece because this is where the mechanics of playing the instruments become less apparent and the music and the emotion instead come forward and tell the story. This is the true expression of music, when it is in the hands of those who care about it. This could be a personal indulgence but something that could satisfy a feeling nonetheless; I would also love to hear this piece with a viola playing the oboe part…as it is though, it is sublime.

[11] ‘Nager Dans La Joie’ oboe, flute and piano: reflecting the composer’s love of French music, and that of the composer Francois Poulenc, this is a fun piece that takes me back to sitting in a cafe on the sidewalk of a lively town in France. There is a rhythm in this piece that is found in the people passing by, the cars and street stalls…the flavour is delightfully provincial France where the people live and move to the laid back beat of every day life, their joie de vivre. The three elements here – piano, flute and oboe – provide a soundscape of scenes and people that remain familiar; the gentle pace of life heard in Amanda Muir’s flute, the pattern of movement in the oboe and the optimism about life and love, that the French are known for, are conveyed by John Martin’s jazzy piano. This is a ‘good mood’ piece for making you smile.

[13] ‘The Flautist’s Pavane’ flute and piano: dedicated to the flautist herself, Amanda Muir, this is an intimate piece which is both introspective yet quite revealing. Amanda’s playing is warm and expressive throughout the exquisite little lyrical phrases. One gets a feeling of consolation from the instrument throughout the piece. The passages are well intoned with sympathetic piano accompaniment and as this work has also been arranged for flute and string orchestra, the depth of emotion contained within the music enjoys the opportunity to be elaborated even further.

[23,24,25] ‘Three Novelettes’ oboe and piano: three short, savvy pieces that highlight John Martin’s flair for  syncopated rhythms that seem so easy to the listener but actually require an innate sense of not only tempo but style. Composed as an homage to the ‘comic genius of Francois Poulenc’, the pieces on this recording influenced by Poulenc have inspired me to explore the life and work of the Gallic composer. Phillip Wilcher has a knack for recreating through music scenes and images from times past and the themes of the Novelettes are evocative, for me, of the atmosphere of Paris in it’s golden pre-war age. In these three Novelettes you sense those elements that made the fabric of Poulenc’s Parisian life; cabarets, music halls, friendships, the good life…Phillip Wilcher seems to have taken the notes from the air around Poulenc and woven them into these three delightful pieces.

[27] ‘Stanza’ oboe and piano: even though this was originally written for violin and piano, I feel this piece really rests so poignantly with the oboe. Dedicated to the dancer Lucette Soper, I guess it is no coincidence that the graceful movement of a swan comes to mind when listening to this piece. Rachel Tolmie’s mastery of some complicated phrasing in this piece proves once again how she is the perfect exponent for the composer’s vivid musical energy. Despite the sadness that underlies the story of the dancer to whom this work was dedicated, this is very much a  joyful reminiscence, spirited yet sensitive – a letter to a cherished soul.

The above tracks are part of a compilation of works that, for me form a path from yesterday to today along which memories and dreams are the paving stones. The variety of genres reflect the variety of life and I feel that the composer has used these to urge us to explore, create and appreciate what lies within each of us. The essence of this music lies in the continuity of a thread across time; taking from life past and present that which is precious, sometimes sorrowful but somehow beautiful and gilding the structure they form in our lives. Preserving them for eternity…goldleafing a dream.


Composer: Phillip Wilcher

Oboe/cor anglais: Rachel Tolmie

Flute: Amanda Muir

Piano: John Martin

Recording and Mastering (2010): Peter Bell

Booklet design: Anne Keats

Cover: Medieval gold leafed illumination by Miss Danette Wallace

Produced by Wirripang Pty Ltd.

















BBC Proms: Handel’s Messiah gets a facelift.

September 8th, 2009

When you think of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ you instantly conjure up images of staid choirs made up of bosomy church ladies and tuxedoed middle-aged men. That’s your suburban production of Messiah and we all know of one. I have had the experience of listening to a Messiah of which even Handel himself would be astonished. Handel in the hands of the young.

On the 250th anniversary of the great composer’s death, BBC Prom 68 on Sunday night  (6th Sept) was awe-inspiring and just plain bloody brilliant. Handel specialist, Nicholas McGegan, conducted a massed choir of young singers – young voices – from around the United Kingdom under the direction of choral specialist Simon Halsey. What this man does not know about choral singing is not worth knowing and on Sunday night the audience was treated to the most refreshing and vibrant Messiah ever produced. What better way to celebrate the 250th anniversary of this landmark piece than by taking it out of the domain of the traditional and placing it in the hands of several youth choirs: The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and Wales and youth choirs from Birmingham, Manchester, Gateshead, Scunthorpe and the Royal School of Church Music.

There is no ‘authentic’ Messiah – no blueprint. Handel took free license with his own work, conducted it himself often and adapted each performance to the voices and instruments available to him at the time. For this performance Nicholas McGegan had brilliant material to work with and the result was sheer magic, Handel’s Messiah as it should be – big and loud.

When those young voices burst in with “And the Glory of the Lord” you just knew that this performance would be something extra special –  those young voices were simply magnificent in a way which was both exciting and surprising. For the Royal Albert Hall no production of the Messiah should be on polite terms – this was a massed effort with trumpets blazing and the thrill and resounding authority of the mighty Albert Hall organ.

And yes, true to tradition, the audience rose to their feet for the Hallelujah Chorus just as George II did back in 1743 although to this day it is not clear just why the King stood at that point. Just choose your favourite theory and go with that 🙂

Treat yourself to a repeat performance here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms/2009/