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Piano Music
Third Soanatina on Four Ricercars [8'04]
Cameos [13'51]
Scottish Airs [11'25]
Sonatine Ecossaise [12'07]
Night Song of the Bards [29'38]
Murray McLachlan Piano.
Olympia OCD 639

Eclecticism in the arts tends to bewilder - and, human nature being what it is, bewilderment leads inevitably to neglect. In the sixty-odd years of Erik Chisholm’s life (1904-1965) he was conductor, administrator, organist, and writer, as well as a composer whose inspiration was drawn from sources as varied as Hindustan, the Outer Hebrides, the neo-classical and baroque, pibroch, astrology and literature. If his name is remembered today (apart from students at Cape Town where he was Dean of the Music Faculty from 1946) it is likely to be those who recall the heady days in Glasgow when, in his role as administrator and educator, he introduced the music of Berlioz, Bartók, Sorabji, Symanowski and Medtner to the douce Scottish public. This CD of piano music - a mere fraction of his output - is in the hands of that persuasive advocate of Scottish piano music, Murray McLachlan - not only as pianist but also as a programme-note writer of distinction and sensibility. (There is a nice echo of Chisholm’s own sense of humour, in McLachlan’s soubriquet for Chisholm - MacBartok).

The notes are essential reading - for Chisholm’s music reflects only too clearly the variety of his sources of inspiration.

The florid 3rd Sonatina on Four Ricercars (a recondite enough title?) with its stately and decorative fugal elements - each built on pre-classical material - forms a strong contrast to the 1926 set of Eight Cameos. These bear such curious titles as ‘A Jewel from the Siderial Casket’, ‘The Mirror’ (an eloquent Chopinesque Nocturne), ‘The Witch Hare’ (marked ‘Jerky’ and with allusions to de la Mare),’The Rolling Stone’ (certainly not a round one), ‘Procession of Crabs’ - and ‘The Sweating Infantry’.

Perhaps the strongest influence demonstrated in this selection from well over 100 pieces for piano is the music of the Gael - of the Highland pipes, the piobearachd. These nine Scottish Airs echo, therefore, something of the Grieg ‘Slaatter’, with much insistence on Strathspey rhythm and Scots ‘snap’. - the last a picture of a very tipsy Highlander - con spirito indeed!

The major work here is undoubtedly the final Six Nocturnes (1944-51) - conceived as an entity and imaginatively entitled ‘Night Song of the Bards’, with each ‘episode’ forming into a kind of mystical and abbreviated 1001 Nights - tales of high drama, the opening movement recalling the demonic Bax of the 2nd Piano Sonata, and contrasting with delicate filigree passages in the third. The whole set is an impressionist multi-movement tone poem of dark cumulative power that fades into the mists of the final Epilogue. The notes are prefaced with an authoritative résumé of Chisholm’s life and work by his daughter Morag, whose warm appeal for a rediscovery of her father’s work will, I hope, awake a practical response - surely two piano Concertos, two symphonies, a Violin Concerto - and twelve exotic ‘Preludes from the True Edge of the Great World’ must excite curiosity - let the present CD be an appetiser!


Colin Scott Sutherland


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