Archive for the ‘Reviewed’ Category

‘Bundanon’ – a musical landscape by Phillip Wilcher

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

bundanonWhen I sat down to listen to ‘Bundanon’, the new CD recording of music by Australian composer Phillip Wilcher I had the distinct feeling, once again, that anything was possible. I am an unabashed admirer of his music but that is not to say I always know what to expect – I only know that I am never disappointed.

In 2008 I reviewed the CD ‘Into His Countenance’ which was a collection of selected works released to celebrate his 50th birthday, one year later I have found that ‘Bundanon’ gives an even greater understanding of the composer and with this comes a deeper appreciation of his music. The pieces are performed by pianist Jeanell Carrigan who has given great attention and context to each piece; it seems impossible to imagine Phillip’s music without the name ‘Carrigan’ being involved. For the listener it is often a challenge to decide if the beauty comes from the composition or the performance itself…I have come to the conclusion that it is a combination of both – it has to be – what is a song without a voice to sing it?

‘Bundanon’ is a work comprising 22 tracks and named for the piece that Phillip composed and dedicated to his friend pianist Alexander Boyd, grandson of famed Australian landscape artist Arthur Boyd. The recording is very much a collection of ‘gifts’ from the composer with each piece having been written for the many friends who inspire him both personally and artistically.

The series of movements, ‘Aaron’s Eight’, is a work of eight short pieces written in gratitude to the brilliant young Australian pianist Aaron McMillan whose life was tragically cut short by cancer in May 2007. Each piece is a sweet treasure brought to life by Jeanell Carrigan’s playing. This work, though not intended at the time it was composed, stands as a fitting tribute to the life of the 30 year old Aaron whose spirit seems to breath through each note – the moderato especially conveying the exhuberance and optimism of youth. It is to Aaron McMillan that Phillip Wilcher has dedicated this CD.

This recording feels very much like a journey through the composer’s thoughts and feelings about the people and influences that surround him; in continuing this ‘Bacchante’ takes in a series of ten Preludes composed for performance by Australian pianist Simon Tedeschi. The composer’s love of Bach is clearly felt in his breathless Toccata – the con moto urging a nervously manic staccato from the pianist and I was left with the tantalising image of the late Glenn Gould getting hold of this piece. Shades of demonic thought pervade throughout; dare we hope for a fugue as well…? the Preludes, composed as an homage to Wanda Landowska, present dazzling varieties of form – the pretty little vivace I particularly enjoyed; it reminded me of the smile you only have when remembering something from your childhood.

bundanon2The title piece ‘Bundanon’ was composed for Alexander Boyd but is a piece that Jeanell Carrigan seems to have been born to play. Phillip’s music, as beautifully evocative as ever, captures a landscape that I personally know so well. As artist Arthur Boyd once stated ” you cannot own a landscape “, but you certainly can hold claim to the effect it has on you. Phillip ‘paints’ a musical vision of the land that surrounds ‘Bundanon’ and transforms it into a piece that is inherently Australian. The lush bushland of the Shoalhaven has inspired poets and artists alike and in this piece Phillip Wilcher has captured the timeless beauty of a part of Australia that is Arthur Boyd’s legacy to us all. Phillip’s ‘Bundanon’ reminds us that the only mark to be left here by the hand of man should continue to be simply the stroke of a brush, the written word or the music it inspires.

The pensive and lovely ‘Prelude for the Right Hand’ – dedicated to Jennifer and Lionel King – will invoke thoughts of Debussy; a little dream-piece, it has a searching quality throughout before coming to a gentle, if unanswered, conclusion. This contrasts starkly with the recording’s showcase piece of bravura – ‘Rhapsody – Casa de los Cloisters’ – dedicated to the composer’s friend John Martin. Jeanell Carrigan is given full rein to convey the flamboyant and ‘Las Vegas’ style of playing that is reminiscent of Liberace.

The deeply introspective ‘The Sorrow of Angels’ demonstrates clearly how this composer’s music can say as much in between the notes as through them. This deeply felt piece is a work which feels as though the composer is sharing something which cannot be expressed in mere words; the beauty is in the understatement – one feels as though the composer has chosen this form to express some long held inner pain. Interestingly this is the only piece on the recording not to be dedicated to someone – in that it has the personal stamp of approval from the great Miriam Hyde I think that actually says more than enough…

The one thread running through this collection of relatively recent works is that of ‘friendship’ and recognition of such. There is no doubt that each person who is remembered here with gratitude by the composer has played their own unique part in his life and contributed to his work as a composer. Of course no product achieves such a high quality without the very best team available to ensure it; the ever supportive publishers of the music of Australian composers, Wirripang, no doubt play the most important role in the life of a composer after those who play his/her music.

Renowned violinist Goetz Richter has combined behind the scenes with his duo partner Jeanell Carrigan in editing and mastering the tracks of this CD – along with Kerry Joyner, recording engineer at 2MBS-FM Studios, they have produced a recording of excellent quality. The CD cover features the design and photography of Anne Keats giving the overall theme a uniquely and very inviting Australian flavour.

phillipwilcherThroughout this recording the composer, Phillip Wilcher, pays tribute to those people who have touched his life; those who remain in his life today and those whose presence and influence is still deeply felt though through their spirit. These new works signify a recognition of life, friendship and inspiration. I feel that in doing this Phillip Wilcher has also, unconciously but quite deservedly, paid tribute not only to himself but the artist within.

‘Into His Countenance’

Friday, June 20th, 2008

 If music be the food of life then call me a glutton.

Music has formed a continuous thread throughout my life and will always continue to do so. It lifts, it transports; it makes one forget and it makes one dream. It inspires tears, laughter, joy…expresses sorrow and all those intangible things in between – music is perhaps the most evocative medium we have.

To me composers seem to live their lives in phases. And what better way to celebrate a composers phase or two, or three…than to capture them on CD. One of my fave composers, Australian Phillip Wilcher, has recently seen a selection of his works to date released on CD to celebrate his big Five-O and I have had the pleasure of listening to this recording featuring some of the works which have formed a path for this man to the present day.

‘Into his Countenance’ is now released and is a fitting birthday present for a composer who writes music that is just made to be remembered.  I often think that Phillip’s music is a combination of past and present…melodic (an absolute necessity in music in my opinion); romantic, edgy, impressionistic – Dali painted for the ‘eye’, Phillip ‘paints’ for the ear…

And when this is all combined with interpretation by the most astute of musicians – people who not only champion Phillip’s works but are also dear friends – you have quite simply, a gem. It is all here; the composer’s joy and irrepressible humour – deep insight and personal sadness.

Tolmie Tune written for, and performed by, the wonderfully gifted oboist Rachel Tolmie; a musical joke – proof that composers are not all seriousness – but very often playful and fun. What I love about this piece is that it shows us, that in Rachel’s hands, the oboe is not just the ‘plaintive’ voice of the orchestra we all know and love…it can be childlike, witty and even naughty. Here the oboist is the comedian and is joined in the fun by the versatile pianist John Martinwho get’s the last laugh…?

‘A Rose in Water’: Phillip’s own gift to his beloved mentor Miriam Hyde on her 90th birthday and beautifully played by Jeanell Carrigan.  Few pianist’s have the gift of that ‘sympathetic touch’ with their instrument as Jeanell does. Few musicians can truly convey exactly what the composer felt when they wrote a particular piece – this is never more evident than in ‘One Tuesday in September’ . Written following the events of 9/11,  the piece describes the composer’s reaction to that devastating event.

‘Into His Countenance’ is the title piece and surely the most personal work for the composer to date; written in the weeks following his mother’s death, and played by the inspired choice of flute and string orchestra, Phillip tells us of the journey of one woman’s soul towards ‘the countenance of God’. Not a final journey by any means – the soul is finite, we will never know just where a soul begins but we do know that it never ends.

The melody, played so beautifully by flautist Amanda Muir, has a floating quality which conveys sensitively the transition the soul makes as it becomes part of another time and place; it is a journey we are all part of eventually and with the strings of the Bourbaki Ensemble the music revisits a time when the pain of letting go, combined with the discovery of something so deeply spiritual, inspired a determination to honour his mother’s life. What better way to do this than through music…

There is so much to enjoy on this CD; music that is fresh, vibrant and very Wilcher. Of course behind every composer is a publisher and Publications by Wirripang provide that vital encouragement and support to it’s artists. This particular CD release (along with the composer) has been lovingly nurtured by Phillip’s publishers Anne and Brennan Keats. In an industry where composers can be regarded as little more than manufacturers, Anne and Brennan, through their care for the composer as a person, have earned the same respect and affection from their composers that they, in turn, afford them. 

And last, but never least, the excellent recording itself; recorded and edited by Peter Bell, his work gives us the wonderful finished product and and is a fine example of his skills.

So what kind of birthday cake do you give a person whose life revolves around notes and key signatures?…I happen to know that Phillip has a leaning towards lemon meringue pie 🙂

I spoke about phases earlier on. One wonders, if present recording technology was available centuries ago, how ‘Mozart at Ten’  or ‘Beethoven – My Romantic Period’  would have been like to capture on CD…we will never know, but one thing is sure – ‘Phillip at 50’  provides plenty for him to be well proud of.