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Piano Music from Scotland.

Cramer; Kiallmark; Mackenzie; Bantock; Chisholm; Stevenson.
 Ronald Brautigam (piano).
Koch 3-1 590-2

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Reviewing recently in these columns other discs of Scottish piano music I ventured the point that the real essence of Scottish music - that is the almost Eastern-sounding music of the Gael and the highly stylised music of the piobaireachd cannot easily be expressed in keyboard terms. This is further underlined in this new CD which  clearly demonstrates the difference between the shapely melodies of  lowland song (a supposedly folk tradition that was in essence a genteel ‘pop’ culture) and the very expressive melodic (and implied harmonic) movement of the songs of the Gael - much of which was ‘working’ music to accompany the rhythm of labour, religious rite, or else love song. The translation into keyboard terms of the lowland song was to attract the attention of Beethoven and Haydn (among others) - and the first three items on this disc will amply illustrate just why this music should so attract. The melodies fit quite comfortably into the musical mores of the 18th and 19th centuries - and, as clearly demon-strated here, the harmonies implied by these tunes are left undisturbed, while the line itself is treated in what amounts to a conventional method of linear variation. The two Cramer pieces - ‘Fy let us a’ to the Bridal’ and ‘The Braes of Bellenden’ have quite lovely tunes which are treated in the style of Hummel/Moscheles - and belong readily to the budding virtuosity of the salon.

Little is known of Kiallmark (the son of a musically influential father), but his treatment of ‘The Boatie Rows’ is very eloquent. This quasi-concert-platform character becomes even more pronounced in the three pieces - an extended Suite of Lisztian proportions - by Alexander Campbell Mackenzie. Though Mackenzie was perhaps the first to imbue the music of the concert platform with a genuine Scottish element, the pre-dominating character of these pieces is unquestionably classical. There are echoes of Liszt - but more significantly, of Smetana and Dvoéák (beloved of Mackenzie’s fellow academic Corder.) The first is a concert piece in good bravura style, the second a gentle Barcarolle with some surprising tonal shifts. The sprightly music of the third might recall his fellow Scot MacCunn.

The most disappointing items are the following Three Cameronian Sketches of Bantock - too long-winded for the paucity of melodic interest and overburdened with the monotonous bagpipe ‘drone’ and the insistent double tonic. Yet even here, the harsher accents share something of the wildness and martial aspects of the Scottish character.

Erik Chisholm may be the least known, even to those Scots who will be aware of his achievements in Glasgow of the 1930s when he fed the good citizens with the then new music of Medtner, Bartók and Sorabji! But here, in a brief Harris Dance Tune, the accent is certainly on the more ‘highland’ aspects of Gaelic melody, the clashing harmonies cloaking the melody with splashes of Peploe-like colour.

The soloist, in his programme note, singles out Ronald Stevenson as, in his opinion, ‘the truest Scots composer in spirit’ - and Stevenson’s deceptively simple pieces of a South Uist Folk Song Suite, and his Wheen Tunes for Bairns to spiel penetrate right to the heart and soul of the folk music of the Gael, while, as might be expected from a pianist of the calibre of Stevenson, retaining a uniquely pianistic quality. In the first set is exemplified the ‘working’ element in Gaelic music - a Sailing Song, a ‘witching song’ for the milking, a ‘waulking song’ to accompany the stretching of the cloth, and a delightful port-a-beul (mouth music for dancing.) And in The Christ Child’s Lullaby a few simple chords evoke a rich emotion. The Wheen Tunes might recall Bartók, yet, knowing Stevenson’s love for Italian music these enchanting miniatures for me relate more readily to the set ‘Per la Gioventu’ of Tagliapietra.

The pianist Ronald Brautigam, of Dutch extraction but married to a Scot, is a pianist not only of consummate skill, he is also an interpreter of great sensitivity - his technique never showy, using the pedal with more than customary expertise. I hope he may investigate further the music of Scotland.


Colin Scott-Sutherland

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