Romance in the air

Holbrook Music Society at the Royal Hospital School, Saturday, 10 May, piano recital: Philip Smith

Judith Newman

Holbrook Music Society at the Royal Hospital School, piano recital: Philip Smith, May 10.

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians defines the term 'Romantic', in relation to music, as “the apparent domination of feeling over order…” and also “…to the period of European music between approximately 1790 and 1910 (hence sometimes known as the Age of Romanticism)”. In every aspect Philip Smith's recital was the epitome of Romanticism.

On the whole the choice of music was confined to well-loved pieces that couldn't fail to please - Schubert's Impromptu in B flat; Liszt's Consolation No. 3; The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and Clair de Lune by Debussy; as well as seven short pieces by Chopin.


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Philip Smith characteristically introduced the themes in a firm manner and from there he explored the music alternating tender passages with passionate ones whilst never losing sight of the melodic line. He was a master of rubato, an Italian term literally meaning 'stolen' but in practice refers to the subtle deviation from the mathematical tempo, by either speeding up or slowing down, to enhance a note or phrase.

It was the two lesser known works (maybe for that very reason) that made the most impact: Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude by Liszt with its mesmerising, contemplative introduction and its complete antithesis, Ravel's Scarbo from Gaspard de la Nuit, an expressive virtuosic stop-start piece depicting a small fiend.

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Philip Smith's cool demeanour belied his impressive technical skill but ultimately the gentle encore, Arabesque no. 1 by Debussy, a little gem of perfection, summed up my definition of Romance.

Judith Newman

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