American Record Guide

This one has been around before in 2004, but it was not reviewed in these pages so it is high time to do so. According to the booklet there will be eight volumes in all, and the first four are now available.

Erik Chisholm (1904-65) was born in Glasgow, Scotland, became a pupil of Donald Francis Tovey, and died in South Africa. His music is rooted in the traditional music of northwest Scotland and, while very much tonal, has nothing to do with the pastoralisms so prevalent at the time. As John Purser’s excellent notes point out, as a conductor and concert promoter, Chisholm brought Hindemith, Casella, Walton, and Bartok to Glasgow, and was dubbed “MacBartok” because of his pursuit of Scottish folk music.

For this recording we have ten of the 24 Preludes from the True Edge of the Great World , which refers to the Hebridean Islands. The set begins with ‘Port a Beul’, singing dance music that jogs along in a catchy manner. Many of the remaining Preludes are emotionally inward and employ impressionist touches along with an occasional Scotch snap.

Airs from the Patrick MacDonald Collection employs Highland Vocal Airs published in 1784. Like the Preludes, they are short, cleverly written miniatures of charm, wit, and sometimes ear-tickling enjoyment. There are 26 of them, and they remind me somewhat of Bartok’s Mikrokosmos in form, if not in style.

The Petite Suite is a continuation of Airs from the MacDonald Collection, and was also known as “Highland Sketches Book 2”.

McLachlan plays all of this with full musical skill, though few pieces call for any real technical legerdemain.

If my enthusiasm seems a bit tepid, it’s probably because of attempting to hear all 41 of these at one hearing. Returning to them after an absence, it must be admitted that many of these tidbits have proved to be numbingly simplistic and dull. Who can tell what response the remaining volumes will bring, but there is little here to engage the heart and the intellect for very long.