This is a welcome disc. Not only do I recommend its purchase but that recitalists
take up McLeod's best piano music.
Writing for the piano is many composers' Achilles heel. In the final analysis
few composers can write really effectively for the piano. Among the British
composers still happily with us, Francis Routh is possibly one of the finest
composers for the piano and, certainly, John McLeod is another.
So much piano music today is of the static and tedious variety, a sort of
updated melancholic dreamy expression of a few famous names from the beginning
of the nineteenth century when, although piano music was tuneful, it meandered
and, perhaps, sometimes wallowed. But this CD is, in the main, of real piano
music and while the quality of the music varies from uneventful to excellent,
it must be remembered that no composer can compose music of supreme quality
all the time.
The Twelve Preludes are exceptional. The theme of the opening prelude has
remained with me since I heard it. There is a finely judged balance of virtuosity
and excitement and thoughtfulness. But the great thing is that the work is
always full of interest; it is never static or dull.
It is one of the most rewarding piano works I have experienced for a long
The Piano Sonata No 1 is a compact work in a single movement. After an
introduction we have a fast-slow-fast format. The continuity does not always
seem to be there but watch out for the final pages. Of these I can, in all
truth, use the word brilliant correctly. It is very exciting indeed.
Arrangements of Hebridean folk dances follow. Dressed in 'unexpected' harmonies
and a craggy ruggedness which may not appeal to everyone and there is always
that group of listeners who spend their time 'trying to find the tune' rather
than paying attention to the music. The Harp of Dunvegan is superbly realised.
One of McLeod's earliest compositions is the Four Impromptus of 1966. The
work is dedicated to his then-teacher Lennox Berkeley. These four pieces
are nothing like the Schubert Impromptus. We are not in the realms of pretty
melodies and endless repetitions but direct statements and communication.
What I discovered was that the descriptions of each of the four pieces were
perfectly apt: energico, tranquillo, cantabile and risoluto.
The Piano Sonata No 3 dates from 1995. It uses a quotation from Scotland's
Renaissance composer, Robert Carver. The episodic style greatly hinders the
logic and continuity of the piece. It is a work of depths that I cannot yet
fathom and there are exciting bursts of powerful virtuosity but I was left
with a conviction that, while this work is expertly pianistic, it may fare
better in an orchestral dress. In my view, the piece needs more colour. I
found it a little tedious.
Murray McLachlan needs no further words from me as to his reliable, exciting
and exemplary performances. The recording was bright but my copy of the CD
see also previous review by Colin