Sally Whitwell’s self-declared mission is to ‘keep classical music friendly’. That’s to be welcomed as an antidote to the rigidity of concert conventions; the sort of thing that keeps generations of young listeners barge-pole distant.
I have not heard Whitwell’s previous discs but their titles suggest a consistent and fresh approach. Both are on ABC Classics: The Good, The Bad and The Awkward: Solo Piano Music from the Movies(476 4898) and Mad Rush: Solo Piano Music of Philip Glass (476 4469). She is by no means a studio-bound musician. Her admirable mettle and endeavour are clear enough from having performed with the composer and Maki Namekawa The Complete Piano Etudes of Philip Glass for the 2013 Perth International Arts Festival.
Here she plays a fetching Michael Nyman selection and does so unfazed by the tendency of each piece just to end - it’s in the nature of much film music. Whitwell thunders in Silver-Fingered Fling but can also ‘sing’ with seraphic Mozartean introspection. Sweetness and shadows are at subtle play in Lost and Found. Dances that speak of heroism and stomping life are communicated with great and resonant power as in Here to There. Towers where bells slowly swing and quickly chime dominate All Imperfect Things. Contrast this with the at first murmuring and rumbling The Attraction of the Pedalling Ankle; it pre-dates Einaudi whose style in Le Onde (1996) it prefigures in that introductory section. All these tracks are from the film, The Piano (1993).
The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) track reminds us that Nyman also draws on Handelian grandeur, as he did to even greater effect in Prospero’s Books. I had not previously heard the four tracks from Diary of Anne Frank. They are from the music for a Japanese anime film. If is another pensive and touching hymn-like statement as is Goodbye Moortie which has the sunlit heights of Why? as its triumphant goal. The Schoolroom skirls and thrums - Caledonian influences close at hand. Enemy Zero is from Nyman’s music for a computer game which has plot parallels with the Ridley Scott Alien films. It is suitably remorseless in Digital Tragedy and sentimentally strummed in Love. The disc plays out with the shoulder-driven pummelling kinetics of Time Lapse from A Zed and Two Noughts.
High quality sound complements the fulfilment of Whitwell’s mission but a couple of things militate against her. The first is the abstemious playing time. The second relates to the booklet which has this finely talented pianist speaking to us directly about herself and the music. There’s nothing wrong with that: it’s just that the font is printed white on Prince Albert mahogany. It makes for eye-strained reading.
Visually the album cover stands out with Whitwell gazing head-on in full anthracite and jet Goth-style - just a touch of Edward Scissorhands too.
Followers of Whitwell, Nyman or melodious minimalism will not regret this disc. Watch out for Whitwell’s next issue.
1 The Heart Asks Pleasure First
2 Silver-Fingered Fling
3 Lost and Found
4 Deep Sleep Playing
5 The Mood that Passes Through You
6 The Embrace
7 Here to There
8 All Imperfect Things
9 The Attraction of the Pedalling Ankle
The Draughtsman’s Contract
10 Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds
Diary of Anne Frank
12 The Schoolroom
13 Goodbye Moortie
15 Digital Tragedy
A Zed and Two Noughts
17 Time Lapse