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WORKS: Six of Hearts; Lesbia Waltz; Golden Flower Piece; Palindrome
PERFORMER: Mary Wiegold (soprano), Andrew Ball (piano), Mark van de Wiel (clarinet); Composers Ensemble/John Woolrich
Tom Phillips, the writer, is familiar to readers of BBC Music Magazine as contributor both of the long-running ‘Music in Art’ series and of its successor, ‘Notes in the Post’. Tom Phillips, the artist, is best known for A Humument, his trademark ‘treatment’ of WH Mallock’s Victorian novel A Human Document, in which the original pages are overpainted with a variety of patterns, swirls and whorls, leaving only cryptic words and phrases (even single letters) exposed to spell out their own metatextual message via what look less like cartoon-style speech-bubbles than segments of intestinal tract. Tom Phillips, the composer, though, is altogether less well known – a pity, given the teasingly playful nature of his small but perfectly formed output, 17 opus numbers in all, mostly composed three decades ago during the heady heyday of English Experimentalism, when a painter could as easily place his work on a music-stand as on a gallery wall, and a musician as happily play pictures as chords and scales. And, like the graphic scores of Cardew or Cage, Phillips’s music is often as attractive to look at as it is to listen to.


Given the brevity of most of the seven pieces recorded (two in alternative versions), Largo’s disc is, as Phillips himself suggests, less ‘a miniature retrospective’ than ‘a retrospective of miniatures’. One couldn’t imagine better performances. Mary Wiegold’s etiolated tone is perfectly suited to the fleeting half-sequiturs of the Humument texts in Six of Hearts, while Andrew Ball’s professional amateurism in the dotty cut-and-paste job that Phillips performed on William Smallwood’s (aka Slowmodal’s) Lesbia Waltz is topped only by the deliciously nostalgic parlour-style orchestration John Woolrich has made of it. Mark Pappenheim