This, the sixth volume of Murray McLachlan’s Chisholm series, presents varied terrain. The Ceol Mor dances (he orchestrated them in 1943) are more wide-ranging than earlier dance sets in previous volumes. The tunes are handled with imagination but, most of all, affection. The fourth is the most rugged of the set, the forceful trills markedly non-decorative (they buzz with a life all of their own). Bartók perhaps surfaces most noticeably in the fourth movement, while the fifth is the sparsest of texture. The sprightly final dance presents the most challenges to the pianist, and McLachlan triumphs wonderfully.
“Dunedin” is actually the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh, but here it refers to the Dunedin Association, a body whose stated aim was to support Scottish music. The Prelude is actually by far the longest movement and indulges in stretches of relaxed-sounding counterpoint. McLachlan shapes it well, preparing the listener for the ensuing movements. The heavy sadness of the Sarabande leads to a complex Caprice. The modally derived melody of Strathspey, the fourth movement, deliciously melts into misty but more identifiably Scots territory. Counterpoint, this time positively ingenious counterpoint, characterizes the final, playful Gigue.
The Bartókian bite of “A Bhanarcach dhonna a’ chruidh” introduces the nine brief Scottish airs in this volume. McLachlan is particularly impressive in the intimate second movement, whose title translates as “a thousand blessings to the lovely youth.” Tenderness vies with assertiveness interspersed with play (the chirpy “Aisling,” for example) to provide a stimulating experience.
The Dance of the Princess Jaschya-Sheena , an “orientale,” is Chisholm in his gentlest mode, made evocative of the East via its drone bass and modal language. The Wisdom Book is a collection of 11 brief pieces, written for children to play. Delightful and simple, each expires before we can completely make its acquaintance. In complete contrast, the Nocturnes: Night Song of the Bards , a set of six nocturnes composed between 1944 and 1951, poses virtuoso challenges to the performer. John Purser’s excellent notes seek parallels with this work and Sorabji’s Djâmî while also pointing out that Chisholm is the more earthy composer of the two. There is a Lisztian element to the broken octaves of the second bard; the third enters a more Scriabinesque universe. These are sophisticated pieces worthy of more exposure in the concert hall.
Another stimulating volume from McLachlan.