Volume six in this series has one especially important collection,
Night Songs of the Bards – Six Nocturnes and a series
of engaging though lesser works that still repay listening.
Written between 1944 and 1951 Night Songs of the Bards
embraces a wide range of rhythmic, textual and colouristic influences
- Raga, Szymanowski and Sorabji among them. The second Nocturne,
the ‘Second Bard’ opens with driving Lisztian declamation before
slowly resolving itself to quietude and reflection. A ghostly
patina haunts No.3, where the impress of Szymanowski can perhaps
be felt at its most explicit, whilst No.5 is limpid and reflective.
No.6 represents the Chieftain, and with its steady, measured,
harp-like accompaniment, it evokes a determined narrative with
huge authority and a gripping narrative sense.
The writing in these six songful Nocturnes marries virtuosity
with rhythmic complexity and lyric introspection. They sound
complex both to assimilate and play, but unfold in their own
good time, powerfully bardic but sufficiently contrast-conscious
always to be involving and thematically interesting, indeed
exciting. The writing is often tempestuous, often driven, but
always intense, whether at fierce tempi or slow ones.
The Ceol Mor Dances, of which there are six, were written
in 1943. There’s an imposing pentatonic start, whilst No.2,
an Andante moderato, does indeed, as the notes suggest,
hint at Satie in the opening bars. The fourth dance has exciting
and full textures, whilst the fifth is a brisk, perky little
march, and the sixth ends in a splendid flourish. The Dunedin
Suite consists of five brief movements that, in their counterpoint,
hint at baroque influence, both in nomenclature and ethos. There’s
an especially wistful melancholy in the Sarabande whilst the
Strathspey dissolves quietly by the end of its run course. The
nine Scottish Airs are very brief – all under ninety-two
seconds – but richly characterised nonetheless; listen to the
powerful Bardic splendour of the sixth, for example, or the
fulsome culminatory Jig. The Wisdom Book – eleven pieces
lasting four and a half minutes – was written for children and
the cheery miniatures sound delightful. Chisholm called Dance
of the Princess Jaschya-Sheena his ‘pot-boiler’ but it’s
surely better than that and very attractive.
Murray McLachlan, as ever, is the conduit through which Chisholm’s
music flows. His technical armoury and ear for colour are both
impeccable and he brings these pieces to life with tremendous
intensity and panache, or – when necessary, as in the children’s
pieces – unpretentious simplicity. With a good recording and
booklet notes, those who have been following this series will
eagerly wish to acquaint themselves with this release. Start
with those Nocturnes.