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Erik CHISHOLM (1904-65)
Music for Piano, Volume 2

Preludes from the True Edge of the Great World (1943) [36’01] – No. 1, Port a beul [1’59]; No. 2, Song of the Mavis [3’48]; No. 3, Sea-sorrow [1’53]; No. 4, The Sheiling [3’33]; No. 5, Sea Tangle [2’41]; No. 6, Spinning Song [3’50]; No. 8, Ossianic Lay [4’34]; No. 19, Stravaiging [4’17]; No. 23, Rudha Bàn [4’34]; No. 24, The Hour of the Sluagh [4’52]. Airs from the McDonald Collection (rev. 1951), Nos. 1-26 [35’13]. Five Movements from the Petite Suite (Nos. 27-31 of ‘Airs’ above) [5’50] – No. 1, Harris Dance [1’06]; No. 2, Mermaid’s Song [1’27]; No. 3, Skye Dance [0’50]; No. 4, Milking Croon [1’22]; No. 5, Love of my youth [1’08].
Murray McLachlan (piano)
Rec. Whitely Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, 26-27 Oct 2004. DDD


One has to applaud Dunelm and the excellent pianist Murray McLachlan for their diligence as far as the music of Erik Chisholm is concerned. Glaswegian by birth, the music of his native country of Scotland was to become Chisholm’s creative spark. A pupil of Tovey’s, it is interesting and amusing to note that, according to John Purser’s fine booklet note, Chisholm was dubbed ‘MacBartók’ for his ethnomusicological endeavours and his translation of the fruits of these labours into his own characteristic form of expression.

All the works here are rooted in the traditional music of north-west Scotland, yet the tunes act as a spring-board from which Chisholm launches his imagination. The ‘True Edge of the World’ is a reference to the Hebrides. The melodies themselves come almost exclusively from Amy Murray’s ‘Father Allan’s Island’.

Murray McLachlan plays these jewel-like miniatures expressively, with virtuosity when required, and always with focus. He is as aware of the power of the miniature as the composer himself clearly was. The piano used has a crystal clear treble faithfully rendered by the excellent recording. Try the second excerpt from the Preludes, entitled ‘Song of the Mavis’ to appreciate this fully. It is good to follow the pieces alongside John Purser’s booklet notes, simply because he is so often spot-on in his descriptions – the ‘dreamy luxuriance’ he refers to in ‘The Sheiling’ (No. 4) is exactly right, for example. The idea of taking these themes and transforming them, taking them to areas they might otherwise never have travelled, obviously appealed to Chisholm. He can also add distinctly dark undercurrents, exposing a revelatory layer of meaning that was perhaps only just detectably latent in the original. Similarly in No. 6, Chisholm ‘takes his line for a walk’ into much darker regions.

Debussian, quasi-impressionistic sound-painting is here too (try No. 19 – track 8 – ‘Stavaiging’), and it feels good when Chisholm provides a piece that is long enough for us to immerse ourselves. A case in point is the modal and very lovely No. 23, track 9, ‘Rudha Bàn’, where all credit is due to McLachlan for not letting the music just become a ‘wash’ of sound.

The Patrick MacDonald Collection of Highland Vocal Airs was published in 1784 and furnished Chisholm with material for the second group on this disc. The dissonant interjections to the more simple prevailing setting in No. 4 (‘Rubato’) are most appealing, as is the No. 9 (track 19, ‘Andante maestoso’) in its darkness. Interesting that the pentatonics of No. 16 do not imply any sort of orientalism. The piece remains firmly geographically rooted with its companion pieces.

There are some pieces that meander rather, it has to be said; Nos. 17 and 18 being cases in point. However there is so much of interest here that they appear as little ‘dips’ in the flow.

The final five movements on the disc - there is a sixth which is not recorded here - include a sweet ‘Skye Dance’ (a mere fifty seconds) and a hyper-delicate ‘Mermaid’s Song’.

Personally I have not heard any other discs by McLachlan of Chishom’s music (there is a review of Volume 1 on MusicWeb, though. On the present evidence, that will be well worthy of investigation, too.

Colin Clarke

MusicWeb also has the last remaining stock of
ERIK CHISHOLM Piano Music Murray McLachlan Piano. Olympia OCD 639 MusicWeb SPECIAL OFFER From Stock: £10 P&P free Worldwide
See review to purchase.

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