Looking back through my files, I’m a little surprised to find that I shared a concert platform with Philip on only about 20 occasions from the late sixties onwards. These ranged from Bach Passions at the Festival Hall ( before the days of Early Music specialisation) and Stravinsky in Vienna to a hilariously awful ‘pro-am’ Pagliacci in my native Norwich.
We also belonged to various professional choral groups. As fellow members of Imogen Holst’s Purcell Singers, under Imo’s idiosyncratic, yet always inspiring direction, we were at Aldeburgh Festival in 1966 for a series of late-night concerts in the Church. It was a happy sociable time, coinciding with my engagement to Tony. ( I have a priceless snap of a group of us relaxing on the beach, with Philip trying on one of the girls’ wigs!!) .
All of us knew Philip should have gained international recognition far earlier than he did. That distinctive bright timbre adapted perfectly to all types of music. His superb musicianship made him the natural choice for contemporary works: 2 major premieres by Elisabeth Lutyens in which we participated stand out: the magical ‘Islands’ and, at the Proms, ‘De Amore’. When we repeated the latter work in Holland, Philip was in a state of emotional and domestic turmoil, having just fallen in love with Ann. His irrepressibly chirpy manner ( who could forget that endearing neighing laugh?) masked a deep sensitivity to others.
None of the usual tenor clichés applied to him. Apart from his complete lack of ego he was impossible to categorise. In his illustrious operatic career he was heroic, lyrical, dramatic, and, that rare thing, a ‘character tenor’ with a real voice. We loved to hear him in Mozart, Schubert and Vaughan Williams- the latter 2 composers so poignantly rendered in his 70th Birthday Wigmore, when he and all of us present had not the slightest inkling that he’d be snatched away so suddenly and cruelly. The upbeat E-mails from his hospital bed ( still on my computer) are a moving reminder of his unquenchable strength of spirit.