I do not recommend that this interesting anthology be heard at one sitting. Nor should listeners expect 78 minutes of music that sounds Scottish. Only MacCunn’s Six Scotch Dances, which are hugely enjoyable, robust and extremely well written for the piano have a Scotch flavour. These are not anaemic transcriptions but original pieces which may simply be dismissed as Victorian. The Kerchief Dance has a classical feel about it recalling both Mozart and Beethoven. The Plaid Dance is wonderfully evocative particularly after the drama of the Dirk Dance. The other piece of MacCunn’s is a Valse which is a slow improvisatory piece with a meandering melodic line and a curious chromaticism.
The pieces by McEwen are more substantial and of greater purport although the quality varies. The Four Sketches begin with a dark prelude which hints at the Funeral March in Chopin’s second sonata; it is a picture of brooding but eventually clearing skies. It has an ambiguous rhythm. The brief Quasi Minuetto is in 5/8 time and has a flippant, casual nonchalance. The Elegy is another uneasy piece whereas the final Humoreske is also ambiguous. And yet these pieces have a depth belied by the title of sketches.
The Sonatina is structurally satisfying and is a rewarding work with a clear and uncomplicated texture. And it is what it claims to be … a short sonata. The central slow movement has a marvellous directness. The finalé is a scherzo of uninhibited fun. There is no overstatement, no extremes, no pomposity or grand empty gestures. It is music for music’s sake.
One can but hope that Murray McLachlan records McEwan’s Piano Sonata.
The Three Keats Preludes are evocative, Debussy-like, charming miniatures which convey their respective titles. This is followed by a more substantial triptych On Southern Hills conveying moods rather than melodic or thematic material. The music lacks depth and spends an inordinate amount of time in the upper register of the piano. I have never heard White Oxen to be so delicate. Debussy’s arabesques are behind the second piece Drifting Clouds and the overlong finalé lacks a sense of direction. The Five Vignettes from La Côte d’Argent were written in 1913 and are appealing because of their simplicity and brevity. It is attractive but rather pale music.
Mackenzie’s music has lucid thematic material and makes proper use of the most expressive register of the piano. High Spirits and Harvest Home are exciting pieces calling for a pianist with a cool head and steel fingers and McLachlan does not disappoint. Chassé aux Papillons also calls for dexterity and skill and is successfully evocative. Schumann’s Arabeske is not far away. The Trois Morceaux recalls Chopin not only in style but also in the titles: Valse, Nocturne and Ballad. Well written and instantly likeable. The Nocturne is especially fine, the gem of the disc.
A welcome disc … very welcome indeed.
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