And so it ends. This is the final volume of Murray McLachlan’s epic journey to the center of Eric Chisholm’s music. With it, though, a pointer toward the label Hyperion, and an upcoming release of Chisholm’s two piano concertos. Tantalizingly, in the context of the Peter Pan Suite, the excellent booklet annotator John Purser makes mention of Chisholm’s later operas.
The first of the elegies begins in typical Chisholm fashion: bagpipe drones, Bartókian hard-edged sonorities. Based on a tune in Patrick MacDonald’s A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs, it is marked lento maestoso and pesante; the second elegy (two versions are given here) continues this ethos, but includes darker, quieter sections. The slow march of the third elegy includes some remarkably potent harmonies, while the fourth returns to the world of the first.
Impressionism seems to inform “Peter,” the first movement of the Peter Pan Suite of 1924; “Wendy” (second movement) continues this current, although it develops further into contrapuntalist territory (beautifully explored by McLachlan). Predictably (but no less magically), it is the “Tinkerbell” fairy of the fourth movement that evokes the ephemeral nature of this Spirit; the central lullaby (“She Sighs for Peter”) is beautiful. Captain Hook provides the necessary brawn for the finale. This is by far the most technically challenging movement, and McLachlan copes with its demands with real aplomb.
The easy simplicity of the Fourth Sonatina (1947) is conjured by McLachlan’s lightening of tone. Subtitled “From the Past,” it originally consisted of three movements, one of which is lost; the other one can be found as part of Sonatina No. 5 in the present series. The movement is based on an appealing lute dance by Hans Neusleider (1508-63).
Good to have the three suites one after the other. Purser refers to these as “occasionally prolix,” while referring to their overriding characteristics as “clarity and wit.” This clarity manifests as an almost neoclassical transparency, and the wit seems to suit McLachlan’s character perfectly. The central Scherzo of the First Suite is full of wit (and cross-handed effects, suavely delivered here). The charming Waltz that follows, borrowed from a suite for flute, clarinet, cello, and triangle, is pure salon music (I think it is actually a finer piece of music than the booklet annotator allows); the finale is a gentle moto perpetuo. The Second Suite lasts nearly 25 minutes and again derives some material from the suite for flute, clarinet, cello, and triangle. McLachlan’s clean way with the two-part textures of the second-movement “Caprice” is most appealing: a charming set of variations on Chopsticks. McLachlan’s trills in the penultimate movement (“Intermezzo”) are similarly appealing, as is his lightness of touch and texture. A wonderfully quirky finale rounds the suite off.
Finally, the single movement of the Third Suite (“Ballet”) is a playful, teasing dance that seems just right to conclude this major series of recordings. Bravo to all involved over at that enterprising record company, Divine Art, and to McLachlan for his clear devotion to this music.