MusicWeb International

We have much to learn about Chisholm and can be thankful that Dunelm and the now defunct Olympia have paid him some attention. We now need recordings of his two 1930s symphonies, his second piano concerto (The Hindustani) and the violin concerto.

His daughter Morag continues to promote his music, ably abetted by Murray Maclachlan who takes the lead here. During this centenary year (2004) there have been several piano recitals and Cape Town have mounted two of his one act operas.

There are three works on this generously packed CD. The three movement Straloch Suite is often gracious in its first two movements which veer between Handelian grandeur and Graingerian whimsey. The finale moves from pounding attack to a touching song of love … or is it seduction. The Scottish Airs (22 of them), like the Straloch Suite , draw on tunes in seventeenth and eighteenth century song collections. These Gaelic melodies are touchingly done. The music becomes more emotionally pregnant and complex with the tightened version of the 1939 Sonata. This edition (presumably the work of the pianist) omits repeated material reducing the length of the work to 33 minutes. This Sonata is deeply impressive, clangorous with skirling majesty, abjuring tartan nonsense and staying in touch with the expressive autochthonous roots of the highland culture – dangerous, harsh-edged and sheerly beautiful.

The music rests comfortably alongside the wilder expressivity of Percy Grainger ( Hill Songs and The Warriors ) and Ronald Stevenson. After a feral Scherzo comes the Lament – Thetis (the name of the British submarine that sank on its first diving trials on 1 June 1939 with the loss of all save four of its crew). The Lament follows the path of the Catédrale engloutie but coloured in slate and inky green. A small insistent figure (tr. 28 2:18) probably refers to the divers tapping on the hull. The finale is an allegro moderato – in which Bartókian rhythmic life meets grand gestures from Bax’s sonatas, and the spirit of the undomesticated places of the Scottish wilderness. This work seems often to strain at the practical limits of two hands and a keyboard. Did Chisholm ever intend to make a symphony from this work?

f you warm to Vaughan Williams’ Lake in the Woods , Grainger’s Hill Songs , Bax’s Toccata or Maxwell Davies’ Farewell to Stromness you will like this. Don’t forget to get Dunelm’s recording of Chisholm’s First Piano Concerto on DRD0174.

—Rob Barnett