I do not recommend that this interesting anthology be heard at one sitting.
Nor should listeners expect 78 minutes of music that sounds Scottish. Only
MacCunn’s Six Scottish Dances, which are hugely enjoyable,
robust and extremely well written for the piano have a Scottish flavour.
These are not anaemic transcriptions but original pieces which may simply
be dismissed as Victorian. The Kerchief Dance has a classical
feel about it recalling both Mozart and Beethoven. The Plaid
Dance is wonderfully evocative particularly after the drama of the
The other piece of MacCunn’s is a Valse which is a slow
improvisatory piece with a meandering melodic line and a curious chromaticism.
The pieces by McEwen are more substantial and of greater purport although
the quality varies. The Four Sketches begin with a dark prelude
which hints at the Funeral March in Chopin’s second sonata; it is a picture
of brooding but eventually clearing skies. It has an ambiguous rhythm. The
brief Quasi Minuetto is in 5/8 time and has a flippant, casual
nonchalance. The Elegy is another uneasy piece whereas the
final Humoreske is also ambiguous. And yet these pieces have
a depth belied by the title of sketches.
The Sonatina is structurally satisfying and is a rewarding
work with a clear and uncomplicated texture. And it is what it claims to
be ... a short sonata. The central slow movement has a marvellous directness.
The finalé is a scherzo of uninhibited fun. There is no overstatement,
no extremes, no pomposity or grand empty gestures. It is music for music’s
One can but hope that Murray McLachlan records McEwan’s Piano Sonata.
The Three Keats Preludes are evocative, Debussy-like, charming
miniatures which convey their respective titles. This is followed by a more
substantial triptych On Southern Hills conveying moods rather
than melodic or thematic material. The music lacks depth and spends an inordinate
amount of time in the upper register of the piano. I have never heard
White Oxen to be so delicate. Debussy’s arabesques are behind
the second piece Drifting Clouds and the overlong finalé
lacks a sense of direction. The Five Vignettes from La Côte
d’Argent were written in 1913 and are appealing because of their
simplicity and brevity. It is attractive but rather pale music.
Mackenzie’s music has lucid thematic material and makes proper use of the
most expressive register of the piano. High Spirits and
Harvest Home are exciting pieces calling for a pianist with
a cool head and steel fingers and McLachlan does not disappoint.
Chassé aux Papillons also calls for dexterity and skill
and is successfully evocative. Schumann’s Arabeske is not far
away. The Trois Morceaux recalls Chopin not only in style but
also in the titles: Valse, Nocturne and
Ballad. Well written and instantly likeable. The
Nocturne is especially fine, the gem of the disc.
A welcome disc ... very welcome indeed.
And for a second opinion
For some reason (I think undoubtedly economic) the advent of CDs has unearthed
a world of neglected unheard music - especially piano and vocal which previously
had their home in the salon of the gifted amateur. I suggest economic - yet
I also believe that there is a decided move towards a nostalgic realisation
that what in the harsh light of the late twentieth century has been discarded,
even reviled, for its sentiment, is now being taken up again, dusted over,
and recognised for what it is - craftsman-like music that has a direct, even
sensuous, appeal - what Bernard Shaw called one's "singing in the bath musical
A truly Scottish element in music has been difficult to assimilate in the
classical language of the academies - and only now, in the music of such
composers as Ronald Stevenson, are we hearing again what is derived from
genuine Scottish folk sources - powerful yet often limpidly beautiful and
not from the kind of tartan element that, at its worst, has its proper home
on the terraces of Ibrox.This present disc is of the former variety - music
of instant appeal - and from a company significantly styled Divineart Ltd.
This CD also comes with a health warning "The divine art of music toucheth
the very soule". Disciples of Nyman and Pärt need read no further -
this is not for you.
But for the genuine music-lover this pot-pourri of "Scottish Romantics" will
be something of a revelation. It will also be the cause of much frustration.
Because this is the kind of music that the fairly competent pianist would
rush out to buy and play. Alas, it will not be found unless in the boxes
of the second-hand dealers. Three composers are represented - only one of
whom will be at all widely known and that only for the one work. Hamish MacCunn
(pictured so elegantly in Pettie's famous painting "Two Strings to her Bow)
will certainly be familiar for his stirring overture Land of the Mountain
and the Flood. Here however he is represented by his Six Scottish Dances
- the outer movements echoing Bartok and Grieg, framing the Kerchief Dance
and Plaid Dance - music of a delicate and unforgettable charm. A suave Valse
(More Gallic than Gaelic) sophisticated as Poldini) concludes his contribution.
A.C. Mackenzie, one-time Principal of the R.A.M. (and according to Bax a
man "with a notable gift of frenzy") is even less well known. Undeservedly.
Odds and Ends they may be - but they are the expression of a highly cultured
mind - with the fragrance of the Glasgow of Lamond). If Mendelssohn had been
born in 1847 (instead of dying then) and had lived in Edinburgh he might
well have written just such music as Chasse aux Papillons and Valse Sérieux
- the latter reminiscent of Chopin certainly, but also of Raff and Moskowski.
There will be few who do not at once warm to the lovely Schumannesque melody
of his Nocturne (especially the tender rising end phrase of the tune) or
thrill to the grand Victorian heroic element of the Ballade. The final spirited
Harvest Home is a tour de force, yet within the competence of a good pianist
- played here with great verve.
Rather more than half the disc is given to the entire piano output (with
the exception of the big Piano Sonata) of John Blackwood (not Blackwell)
McEwen also a former Principal of the R.A.M. - perhaps the least
Scottish-sounding of the trio - certainly the most progressive in his use
of the keyboard and the most impressionistic. While the suite On Southern
Hills rather outstays its welcome the Quasi Minuetto (from Four Sketches)
and the Sonatina will captivate the listener. The pianist Murray McLachlan,
a persuasive advocate of much that is unfamiliar plays here a dual role and
is superb in both. His exciting advocacy at the keyboard, is quite matched
by his eloquent programme notes - some of the finest most literate notes
by any musician that I have come across. No doubt some will criticise the
hectic pace of his final Harvest Home but this really demonstrates quite
conclusively his great joy in the music that is so far removed from the desperate
aridity of so much present day expression. A disc to be highly recommended
- music publishers take note.