International Piano

Like the first four volumes of Murray McLachlan’s survey of the piano music of the Scottish composer Erik Chisholm (1904-65) – reviewed in the March/April 2009 issue of IP – this fifth installment brings uneven rewards, but the best of it is unlike anything else in music. What makes the best of Chisholm unique is his transfer of piobaireachd (pibroch), the ancient idiom of the Highland bagpipe, to the modern piano keyboard. The mixture of modality and decoration instantly sounds Celtic, but Chisholm adds the quality of individualism you’d expect from this kind of radical traditionalist – the music of his friend Bartók offers a close parallel.

Murray McLachlan goes at the music with all the enthusiasm of a dog greeting a postman, giving full-blooded accounts of the more extrovert pieces and fleshing out the thinner ones, the effect emphasised by the closeness of the recording. If ever we get the chance to compare different approaches to Chisholm, it will be thanks to McLachlan’s pioneering efforts in the first place.

—Martin Anderson