4 1/2 star review for my album “The Good, the Bad and the Awkward”.

REVIEW by Julian Day in Limelight Magazine, July 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Awkward

Music from films

Sally Whitwell, piano


A cinematic tribute from one of our most imaginative pianists

If you’ve seen the film Amélie you’ll know the unforgettable character at its heart. Amélie is a sweet, beautiful and quirky young woman whose dedication to others yields great deeds and even greater success.  The description could easily apply to pianist Sally Whitwell who, after years supporting choirs, cabaret singers, dancers and innumerable Sydney ensembles, has found a new calling as a soloist of striking vision.

Amélie became the catalyst for Whitwell’s latest CD, an unusual yet very rewarding collection of works dedicated to characters from a world of cinema. Some of these characters are established French icons such as Amélie, Betty Blue and Delicatessen’s Julie.  Others are more surprising choices: Max in Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max, Danny from Oceans Eleven and Tom Cruise’s vampire Lestat to name just a few.  Characters who are, as Whitwell puts it, “incredibly imperfect, beautifully blemished and fabulously flawed”.  Like the mix of films, the musical range here is wide - from Bach, Haydn and Schubert to Nino Rota, Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen.

Whitwell opens with a left field step, wielding toy piano, melodica and harpsichord in a theme that recurs throughout the CD.  These interludes are as “awkward” as the CD gets, however, despite Whitwell’s best attempts to look the part in a retro blue polka-dot dress and lurid green eye-shadow.  Rather the set is by turn sensitive and reflective, energetic and capricious, Whitwell’s wit balanced by warmth.

Nostalgia is, of course, a key ingredient in the mix here: I especially enjoyed revisiting the summer swagger of Gabriel Yared’s soundtrack to Betty Blue alongside the dreamy and enigmatic Falling from David Lynch’s series Twin Peaks.  (Whitwell and I presumably grew up on the same TV and film diet - we ought to swap DVDs.)

As on her extremely popular debut album Mad Rush (a recital of Philip Glass’s piano music), Whitwell’s gifts here are in drawing out attention to lesser-heard works and bringing new sensitivity and emotion to pieces we may already know well.

With sure technique she effortlessly shapes these simple yet beguiling tunes into pieces that can safely leave their cinematic roots behind.

This disc establishes Sally Whitwell as Australian music’s latest triumphant character.