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4MBS Classic FM - May 2013

Phillip Shovk: Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, Tchaikovsky The Seasons

Phillip Shovk is considered to be one of Australia’s foremost concert pianists, chamber musicians, accompanists, adjudicators and teachers. After studying at the Sydney Conservatorium High School with George Humphrey and graduating with the Frank Hutchens Prize for being the most promising performer of his year, he continued his studies at the Moskow State Conservatory with Professor Valery Kastelsky, graduating as a Master of Fine Arts.

Phillip has adjudicated at the Sydney International Piano Competition, Concours Animato of Paris, the Singapore National Piano Competition and the New Zealand National Concerto Competition amongst others. He has performed to great acclaim in several European countries Singapore, New Zealand and China, where he has been involved in recording traditional Chinese music. Phillip has taught at the Rachmaninov Conservatoire in Paris and is currently a Lecturer in both Piano and Accompaniment at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and The Australian Institute of Music.

This two CD set, released in 2012, takes a fresh look at these works through the eyes of a single instrument, works that most of us are more used to hearing performed with full orchestral backing. Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky were only briefly acquainted, holding no high regard for each other by the way, and these works were not well known in the composers’ lifetimes. Both were consummate pianists, and Shovk has chosen to record them together “to show two sides of the Russian soul”.

The works differ in several respects not least of which are the composers’ aims in composing and the genesis of these pieces. Pictures is from the composer’s mature years, whereas The Seasons is an early work in Tchaikovsky’s career. Other differences include the composers’ musical world-views, their use of harmony and form, their aims in composing and their pianism in these works.

In composing for the piano, Tchaikovsky nevertheless often thought in terms of orchestration whereas in Pictures, Mussorgsky demands considerable technical dexterity.

The eight-page information booklet is an extended, detailed interview with Shovk about the recording, the composers and his choice of these two works. Also included is the text for the poems from which Tchaikovsky drew some inspiration. While Pictures works well using pianoforte only, for me, with The Seasons, I miss the emotional ebb and flow, the push and pull provided by the orchestrations of Tchaikovsky’s works. Somehow, in January the hearth lacks warmth, in June there is no sunshine and in Autumn, where is the beauty of the changing colours?

Cynthia Burneu

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