Phillip Scott

Phillip Scott

Phillip Scott is a long-time reviewer for Limelight and US music journal Fanfare. He has written four novels and the scores of several children’s shows for Monkey Baa Theatre Company. He is best known for his work as performer, writer and Musical Director for The Wharf Revue. 


Articles by Phillip Scott

21 March, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: VERDI Messa da Requiem (Soloists; Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Muti)

Giuseppe Verdi was not the most devout composer of his time, but in Italy he was the most popular. When Rossini died, Verdi set about organising a requiem in the older master’s honour. That project foundered, and Verdi’s Libera me found its way into his full Requiem, written in 1873 in memory of Alessandro Manzoni. From the start, Verdi’s Requiem was more about public than private grief. It is operatic in style and scope – indeed, three of the original soloists sang the leads in the European premiere of Aida. Some conductors try to emphasise the spiritual side of the work, but Verdi’s Requiem is a matter of blood and guts as much as life and death. The chorus’s doomed Requiem aeternam is suffused with the portent of high tragedy. The opening of the Dies irae, with its drum whacks and shattering minor chords, is as tempestuous as Otello’s shipwreck, while the mezzo’s Liber scriptus is direr than any curse hurled out by a gypsy fortune-teller. Muti, an opera conductor par excellence, understands this, and the Chicago Orchestra have a reputation for piling on the decibels when required. The soloists are strong, only lacking an Italianate warmth (apart from Borodina)….

12 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: SCHUMANN Spanische Liederspiel; Minnespiel; Spanische Liebeslieder (singers: Petersen, Vondung, Güra, Jarnot, pianists: Berner, Radicke)

Robert Schumann composed two cycles from the set in 1849, for mixed voices and, in the case of the Spanische Liebeslieder Op 138, two pianists. Hugo Wolf later drew on Geibel’s work for his Spanish Songbook, a setting much better known today than Schumann’s, partly because the earlier cycles require multiple musicians. Looking to the warmth and freedom of southern Europe was a common theme of German Romantic art but, typically, Schumann’s choice of poem tends towards the melancholy. The duet from Op 138, “Cover me with flowers for I am dying of love” more or less sums up the dichotomy. Yet there is a sombre side to the Spanish soul that chimes perfectly with the “tortured genius” of Schumann’s muse. (Most of the songs in both sets are in the minor key.) The only overt Spanish-sounding note is in the instrumental Nationaltanz of Op 138, where the composer imitates the strumming of guitars and (possibly) the stamping of feet. These are stunning performances. The four young singers – none of whom I had encountered before – have strong, clear voices and the ability to colour the dramatic points of the poetry. Both pianists are sensitive, and the recording quality…

12 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: CHOPIN Piano Sonatas 1-3; Scherzos 1-4; 4 Ballades; Fantasie Op 49; Barcarolle, Op 60 (piano: Adam Harasiewicz)

People also expected Chopin to be interpreted that way, with tons of rubato and an emphasis on lyricism over structure.When the Polish pianist Adam Harasiewicz appeared on the scene in the 1950s, he was ahead of his time in his approach to Chopin. He simply played the music straight, revealing the importance of structure in the composer’s work and bringing out a Classical influence. Harasiewicz recorded all the composer’s works for Philips but remained a cult figure and is largely forgotten today. Despite that, he paved the way for such modern masters as Murray Perahia, who no longer feels the need to pull Chopin’s music around. In Harasiewicz’s hands, the First Piano Sonata sounds Mozartian in its clarity; the Funeral March from the Second Sonata grieves with an aristocratic dignity and no hint of hysteria. He executes the fast scales and arpeggios of the Scherzos accurately without drawing attention to his technique. It is only in the inward-looking moments of the Ballades and the tender Barcarolle that his dry-eyed, straightforward style fails to pay dividends. Nevertheless, this is an interesting reissue, with sound quality that belies the age of the recordings.

12 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: STRAUSS Four Last Songs; Morgen!; Zueignung; Der Rosenkavalier (singers: Kenny, Gore, Harms, Hibbard; Queensland SO/Fritzsch)

Here they are coupled with three excerpts from the opera, including the ecstatic Act Three trio, and two of Strauss’s most languorous solo songs. At 44:36 this makes for a short CD. The disc is a showcase for soprano Yvonne Kenny. Her voice has been described as “silvery”; that, plus her accuracy of pitch and sure dramatic instincts, ensures her success in Handel and Mozart. Her Marschallin from Der Rosenkavalier has also been acclaimed, and you can hear why in the Act One monologue recorded here. Her pointing of detail and sympathetic intelligence bring the character of the ageing beauty vividly to life. At this stage of Kenny’s career she is still able to project her middle register, but I feel that these pieces respond more fully to a larger voice. Despite her positive attributes, something is missing: compare the recordings by Gundula Janowitz, Jessye Norman or Soile Isokoski. Fritszch and the Queensland Orchestra give solid support, though the recording rather crowds them around the soloist. Harms’s robust Octavian and Gore’s slightly mature sounding Sophie are fine – but it’s Kenny’s show. If you’re a fan you won’t be disappointed.

12 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: PROKOFIEV Suites (baritone: Andrei Laptev, soprano: Jacqueline Porter; SSO/Ashkenazy)

Nothing lightweight about this collection of orchestral works by Prokofiev, beginning with the sound. Even in regular stereo it is vivid, and reproduces an accurate concert hall balance. My one sonic reservation concerns the swinging trumpet in Lieutenant Kijé, presumably principal Paul Goodchild: he’s too far away! The Lieutenant Kijé Suite is taken from a 1933 film score. The satirical story of a fictitious scapegoat in the Tsar’s army brought out the composer’s cheeky side, but there is lyricism too. Ashkenazy’s easygoing performance is one of the few on disc to utilise a singer: the pleasant, open baritone of Andrei Laptev. That commedia-dell-arte romp The Love of Three Oranges was premiered in Chicago. To be honest, the best music of the opera appears in the five-movement suite. Ashkenazy doesn’t make the mistake of rushing the famous March, while the Scherzo is brilliantly light on its feet with just enough of a sinister undercurrent. The Ugly Duckling, Op 18, is rarely recorded. Stylistically it epitomises the gentler side of early Prokofiev, along with the Autumnal Sketch, Op 8 and the Piano Sonata No 4, “From Old Notebooks”. Prokofiev colours the story with a Russian slant. Porter brings it off very well….

11 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: TCHAIKOVSKY The Nutcracker (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Rattle)

Tchaikovsky’s ballets are the chick flicks of classical music, but like the best chick flicks they can be witty and reveal a light touch. The Nutcracker is crammed with memorable tunes and piquant orchestration – including the recently invented celeste in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – and shows the composer at the peak of his abilities in the famous point numbers of Act 2. The Waltz of the Flowers lilts as flightily as anything by Johannes Strauss. Right from the opening Miniature Overture we know we are in for some magic. Last year, Australian audiences got to sample the Berlin Phil in the flesh. They sounded impressive live, and do so again here. This is a lush orchestra, not a theatre pit band, and under Rattle they give a full-hearted performance. The conductor points and details the lyrical phrases, sometimes too indulgently, but his relaxed tempos never drag. The sound is good if a little dry, and rather light at the bass end of the spectrum. This is a double CD set, unlike Gergiev’s tougher, snappier version, but the extra outlay is worth it. Rattle’s discs come with a colourful booklet filled with beautifully reproduced costume designs,…

3 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: SHOSTAKOVICH 24 Preludes and Fugues (piano: Roger Woodward)

Inspired by the Bach playing of the young Tatiana Nikolayeva, the composer wrote his own series of preludes and fugues for her in record time. In 1975 few music lovers knew the work, and it was the young firebrand Roger Woodward who made the first complete recording in the West. That set has now been reissued after 35 years in the RCA vaults. Woodward treats this work as if it were avant-garde – which it was closer to being in 1975. For a start, he plays most of it at dazzling speeds; his performance is 20 minutes shorter than Ashkenazy’s. Woodward’s articulation is crisp and pointed, the result not unlike Glenn Gould’s Bach (and the sound quality is similarly on the dry side). At high speed the C-sharp minor prelude positively glistens, while the A minor prelude and fugue barrel along. The G-sharp minor fugue is undeniably exciting, though it soon turns a trifle clattery, and the lovely A major prelude loses its tranquillity at Woodward’s rushed tempo. The well-known D-flat major prelude becomes a galumphing, mechanistic waltz: echoes of the young, sarcastic Shostakovich of the 1920s, so clearly heard in some other performances, are nowhere in evidence here. The…

3 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: RAVEL The Piano Concertos, Miroirs (piano: Pierre-Laurent Aimard; Cleveland Orchestra/Boulez)

Aimard and Boulez give a strong account of the first, more forceful than the norm, and the pianist’s technique is astonishing. I have never heard the cadenza sound more like two hands than in this performance. Their G major concerto is less successful. Boulez is on record as disliking the work, finding it “dated” because of the influence of 1920s jazz. To today’s audience the mild syncopation and “blue” harmonies are nothing more than an exotic colour, no more dated than the ländler flavour in Mahler or the folksong influence in Vaughan Williams. In any case, these two great musicians miss the point of the piece. There is no fun to be had in the first movement and the third movement is pedestrian. The wistful slow movement fares better, but the temperature remains cool with more mind than heart involved. Sound is excellent, although the live recording reveals an imperfection of ensemble once or twice – unheard of in a Boulez performance! Aimard plays the solo suite Miroirs with precision and brilliance, but again aims to dig beneath the surface when it is the impressionistic surface that matters most. Boulez recorded the Ravel concertos in 1999 with Krystian Zimerman, whose…

3 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: BARTÓK Piano Concertos 1 – 3 (Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, BBC Phil Orch / Noseda)

On top of that, he was an exceptional pianist. Otto Klemperer wrote of Bartók’s tone that it was “almost painfully beautiful”, often forgotten when pianists launch into Bartók’s triple fortes with a sledge- hammer. The first two concertos seem to invite a harsh response from performers. No 1 (1926) is full of sharp edges. The Second, from 1930, is equally vivid and exciting, making greater use of folk music in its rhythmic and thematic turns of phrase. The Third (1945) is quite another creature: written for the composer’s wife to play when he was ailing (in fact, he did not live to complete the orchestration of the final movement) – it is comparatively mellow and lyrical. The tender chorale of the slow movement is one of Bartók’s most intimate and personal statements. Any recording that fails to stress the contrasts between these pieces is missing something. I’m afraid that is the case here, even though Bavouzet’s playing is powerful and expressive; he can certainly take every technical challenge in his stride. Revered as a Debussy pianist, it may be that he is overcompensating in this starker repertoire. The recording is to blame too: piano and orchestra are closely miked within…

2 January, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: From Shadows (Adam Herd)

Adam Herd is a young prize-winning pianist from Coffs Harbour. Don’t be misled by the “country-and-western” cover shot, or the bio that stresses his interest in sport and surfing: Herd may be a regular guy but he is also a sensitive and accomplished musician. His program is well chosen. Anatoly Liadov was a late 19th-century Russian composer, essentially a miniaturist. His three short pieces (Prelude Op 11, No 1, Barcarolle Op 44, and Novelette Op 20) are pretty but insubstantial; the orchestra was Liadov’s domain. Nonetheless, he was a precursor to Rachmaninov, whose rarely played Variations on a Theme of Chopinfollow. The variations are on Chopin’s Prelude Op 28, No 20, a solemn chorale. Solemnity permeates the first ten minutes of this long work, poorly received at its premiere. The composer subsequently cut the 10th and 12th variations and the coda, and Herd plays the shorter version. Although the piece takes a while to get started, it eventually offers the performer opportunities to be fleet, tender, and vigorous. Herd meets these challenges with style and an innate feeling for rubato. Australian composer Carl Vine’s Third Piano Sonata was composed…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month Subscribe Already…