Margaret Phillips

Concert organist

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Concert review

Margaret Phillips at St Bavo, Haarlem
30 August 2005

'Tuesday's municipal organ concert at the Oude Bavo was given by the English organist Margaret Phillips who - apart from being a recitalist - is also an esteemed teacher. And I can assure you that she is definitely someone you would not mind being taught by for a year or so! Her organ playing is of unbridled musicality and devoid of any frills. Registrations have been tastefully selected and her tempi are brilliantly geared to the large space. Phillips's playing evokes a sense of calm and well-being, in particular through the clear phrasing in her treatment of the melody. This is most beautifully obvious in the Partita O Gott, du frommer Gott by Johann Sebastian Bach. Through treatment and colouring, the variations on this chorale are all given their own character, whilst retaining the unity of the complete work.

'Another surprise was three unknown smaller organ works by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. These compositions are not as imposing as the great organ sonatas but nonetheless radiate an enjoyment of great musicality.

'Organ activities are mainly a men's thing. This makes it even more remarkable that very often it is a woman at the console - rather than a man - who gives us these wonderful concerts. Regulars at the concert series have certainly experienced that over the years.

'And it is not only their playing which impresses us, their composing qualities should not be underestimated either. This is no doubt the reason behind Phillips's sympathetic gesture of including two composing female compatriots in her programme.

'The chorale preludes by Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) also have a late romantic tonal idiom. Phillips plays two. The Chorale Prelude & Canon O Gott, du frommer Gott in particular is a little gem with her lively polyphony in relation to the chorale melody.

'Judith Weir is a contemporary composer. With her many tremolos, her Ettrick Banks reminds us strongly of the works by the Dutch organ composer Jan Welmers. It is perhaps a work that more organists should include in their programmes. As I left the church, the verger - after having done the selling of programmes - was killing time reading a book, his ears still tuned to organ sounds. But, with his choice of book, he subconsciously confirms the plea for English women in art. He was reading Harry Potter. You'd be very happy to be taught by Margaret Phillips'!
Het Haarlems Dagblad, 31 August 2005

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