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Seen and Heard Recital  Review



Kabalevsky, Miaskovsky, Shostakovich, Stevenson & Shchedrin:  Murray McLachlan (piano). Wigmore Hall, 10.09. 2006 (CC)

Murray McLachlan’s recordings for Dunelm have always struck me as a mixed bag (see here for my reviews of his Busoni and Chisholm) so it was good to see him live, exceeding all expectations. This programme bristled with difficulties, none of which seriously stretched him.


The Kabalevsky was the Third Sonata (for excellent recorded versions of this, try either Werner Haas on a fascinating multi-disc set, or Moiseiwitsch on a much cheaper Naxos disc). This 1945 work is an ideal first item as it poses no real difficulties for the listener but is nevertheless superbly crafted. McLachlan articulated the opening ‘Allegro con moto’ very well (straight in, no settling at the piano), and just avoided overloading the notorious Wigmore acoustic. He saw parts of the first movement as almost Impressionist in conception, and located late-Liszt-like dark sonorities in the second movement. The circus-like finale had more than a twang of the slapstick about it.


McLachlan recorded Miaskovsky’s 1942 Song and Rhapsody, Op. 58 for Olympia (OCD217). Interesting to hear Miaskovsky in context here (he taught Kabalevsky, and the two were actually living in the same house when Op. 58 was composed!). The Song is very nostalgia-laden (McLachlan projected the melody well) while the Rhapsody is unpredictable, as every good Rhapsody should be, shifting hither and thither while flowing naturally all the while. Fascinating.


It was the inclusion of both of the Shostakovich Sonatas that originally drew me to this programme. McLachlan laid into the First in no uncertain fashion (it was uncomfortable even from the very back of the hall). His agenda was clearly to expose the extremes this work explores (the use of the left-hand fist certainly added to the visual effect). The dynamic range utilized was huge (as was the pause after a sequence of low-register aggregations). Memorable.


The Second Sonata was reserved for the second half. Possibly he was getting tired, as finger slips were creeping in (the first half was notable for its accuracy), the work’s angularity was somewhat underplayed and the slow movement could have looked further inward. It was left to the finale to remind us of what a fine player McLachlan is. His spinning of the long unaccompanied line was mesmeric; he brought Handel to mind in the dotted Variation VIII and he generally had the measure of this movement.


Interesting to compare McLachlan with Donohoe at the QEH in March. McLachlan made the stronger impression of the two by far (and played from memory), seeming to travel more often to the heart of this impressive music.


Preceding this was a work by Ronald Stevenson, the Recitative and Air (DSCH). Apparently composed on a four-hour long train journey, this is a work that despite some really peaceful moments and an obvious Bach link leaves an impression of grayness and anonymity. Much more interesting was the final item on the programme, Rodion Shchedrin’s Tschastuschki: Concerto for Piano Solo, ‘Naughty Limericks’. Almost jazz-like and possessed of unbuttoned virtuosity, this work is a virtuoso exploration of the irreverent folk-songs of its title. McLachlan seemed particularly suited to the toccata-like passages, but also reveled in the Petrushka-like bitonalities and the irreverent vamp-till-ready accompaniments. Great fun.

This was a memorable, intelligently planned recital – I look forward to hearing McLachlan live in concert again.

Colin Clarke





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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)