Murray McLachlan’s latest installment of piano music by Erik Chisholm (1904-65) does not disappoint. For those who have travelled in the pianist’s shadow along this extraordinary journey (four volumes previously released, reviewed in January 2004, May 2005, and January 2008, and three more to be issued quite soon), or even hitched a ride for part of the way, the fascinating cocktail of Scottish and Hungarian nationalistic qualities will doubtless cause little consternation. If, as in my own case, this recording constitutes your only excursion into ‘MacBartók’ territory (an affectionate, tongue-in-cheek sobriquet for Chisholm’s writing happily perpetuated by McLachlan – and emphatically not a criticism of stylistic inadequacy) then your eyebrows may well disappear into your scalp as you discover what the composer is capable of.
If, for example, you were to accidentally click on track 12 first (entitled ‘Bosse Dance’, the opening movement of Sonatina No. 6 of 1946), then you would encounter a perplexing mélange of Claude Gervaise’s La volunté , which dates from the middle of the sixteenth century, skin-grafted onto which is the ‘Minute’ to Sonatina No. 5, inventively crafted by McLachlan. Given the pianist’s torch-bearing generosity towards composers that deserve an even fuller estimation than they have hitherto achieved, such as Ronald Stevenson, John McLeon, Charles Camilleri and John Williamson, it is hardly surprising that McLachlan’s visceral empathy with the music of a fellow Scotsman amounts to such a tasteful and imaginative portrayal.
The Bartók reference holds a certain amount of water, to be sure, but only when seen in a far broader context, one that cheerfully embraces out-and-out Impressionism (such as in ‘The Rainbow’) and outlandish comedy (‘Seumas Beg’), both taken from a set called Cameos , a dozen beautiful and highly worthy depictions. Then there is the stand-alone Tango , a pithily assembled dance rubbing shoulders with the more overt Scottishness of works like Piobaireachd. ‘Piobaireachd’ means ‘piped’ in Gaelic, and this set of eight character pieces draws from hues apparently typical of the Scottish Highland bagpipes, but in reality holds music of Messiaen-like opulence (such as in No. 14, ‘The Bells of Perth’) set against examples of music possessing an altogether simpler, more immediate charm, such as No. 21 ‘ A Lament for the Harp Tree’, topped off by the extravagant train-like momentum in No. 22, ‘Squinting Patrick’s Flame of Wrath’.
I found McLachlan’s playing to be effervescent and sensitive in equal measure, always clear in its delineation of the more sinewy lyrical strands and yet capable of explosive force where asked. He allows light to settle on the surface of the music without scurrying off unduly to tackle the next. Take ‘Moonlit Apples’ ( Cameos ), for example – 43 seconds of inexorable artistry.
The sound on the recording suits the idiom splendidly. I hope to be entrusted with one or more of the remaining volumes in this ambitious survey.