Pianist

The chance to work with a living composer must have influenced Murray McLachlan to the utmost in his newest recording. John R. Williamson, a Mancunian composer now in his 80 th year, hovered over McLachlan’s recording sessions of his music. (Makes me wonder what it would be like to have Beethoven’s grumpy face staring at you while you struggle with his music.) McLachlan, who has waded through oceans of notes in his life, was undoubtedly beaming in the presence of the composer, at least if we are to judge from his smiley photo on the back of the booklet notes. But will the listener be entertained by the actual music on this disc?

Nobody can fault the musical brilliance of the performances, executed in a lively acoustic on a fine-sounding Steinway. If you sense that a reluctant recommendation is on its way, it is simply down to the fact the Williamson’s pentatonic and often slightly repetitive music lacks the melodic inventiveness and progressive originality of other contemporary composers. Williamson is best in his shorter pieces, such as his sets of Palindronic Studies in which a small idea is often transformed into surprisingly fine-shaped patterns. I find his piano sonatas of lesser interest, however his mastery of the sonata form is unquestioned. The first three volumes in this series contain around a third of his piano compositions to date, and the adventurous listener should not hesitate to grab them with the hope of many more volumes to follow. (Pianist Recommended Recording)

—Marius Dawn