This is the seventh and final volume in Divine Arts’ complete solo piano music of Scottish composer Erik Chisholm, all performed by Murray McLachlan. Previous volumes have all been warmly received – see reviews of volume 1-4, volume 5 and volume 6. Volume 7 has itself also been reviewed (twice) here, and piece-by-piece descriptions of the music can be found there. At the foot of that page, furthermore, is a list of links to various Chisholm-related items of interest.
In his booklet notes, Chisholm’s biographer John Purser admits that this final disc really only makes sense in the context of previous volumes. As he aptly puts it: “we leave Chisholm’s music then, not with any grand gestures, modernist assertions, Scottish determination or lyricism; but with unaffected, easy-going and undemanding pleasures”. Much has been written about Chisholm’s authentic credentials as a musician of and for Scotland, particularly with regard to its ceòl mòr , but the pieces on this CD are perhaps the least Scottish of any in the series.
An audition of any of the discs will leave no doubt that Chisholm was a master of the piano miniature. Almost every work in these seven volumes has been either brief – concise is better – in itself or, where longer, consisting of smaller elements in the form of suites, with individual movements often under a minute long. The major exception is the Sonata in A ‘An Riobain Dearg’, which featured on Volume 1, whilst the Sonatine Ecossaise on Volume 5 constitutes another piano pillar exceeding the ten-minute mark. Yet that is not to dismiss any of the miniatures themselves as mere salon pieces or frivolities: the five Elegies, quasars in piano form, are anything but that, and the Suites are jam-packed with inventive, subtle and tantalising rhythms, harmonies and effects, interestingly reminiscent often, as has been pointed out by commentators, of Bartók, and perhaps Szymanowski.
It is hard to agree that sound quality here is “superb”, as reported by one of the previous reviewers of this disc – “pretty good” would be more accurate, as the recording equipment gives the impression of being the wrong side of the open piano lid, and the piano itself does not sound quite in tiptop condition. There is also a minor, momentary technical blip at the end of track 21. The CD booklet however is neat and informative.
As mentioned in a previous review, the Erik Chisholm Trust describes the composer thus: “He is also alone in his attempt to infuse into symphonic structure the forms of Celtic music-lore (e.g. the pibroch) as distinct from the introduction into present-day forms of merely discursive Celtic atmosphere.” That seems rather unfair on James MacMillan, Eddie McGuire and a few others from the past century, including Granville Bantock and William Wallace, and, outside Scotland , Arnold Bax. Yet there is little doubt that Grant Covell’s assertion – prominent on the Trust’s homepage – that “Erik Chisholm is the most interesting 20th-century Scots musician you’ve never heard of” has rung true for far too long. With luck, this outstanding piano series will push things along and ultimately lead to the recording of Chisholm’s complete works. That would give a big boost to Scotland’s cultural heritage and add to the musical treasures already turned up in Murray McLachlan’s marvellous recordings.