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 Chisholms 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 remembe../graphics/red 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 Chisholms own sense of humour,
in McLachlans soubriquet for Chisholm - MacBartok).
The notes are essential reading - for Chisholms 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
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 in toto 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 Chisholms life and work by his daughter Morag,
whose warm appeal for a ../graphics/rediscovery of her fathers 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!
Ian Scott Sutherland
Ian Scott Sutherland