Penguin Guide To Compact Discs

Mackenzie’s genre piano vignettes are derivative but hardly draw on the French impressionist school, as their inclusion in this collection might imply. Chasse aux papillons, High Spirits and the closing Harvest Home are all bravura display pieces, and Murray McLachlan throws them off in virtuoso style, although not without a feeling that a fractionally slower tempo would have been even more effective. It is the music of the other two composers on this enterprising collection that makes it worth exploring.

The subtitle of this Scottish collection is “Impressionistic piano works”, but that hardly applies to the simple miniatures by Hamish MacCunn, engaging though they are. They include one real lollipop: the Plaid Dance (track 5) which, with its gentle Scottish snaps, haunts the memory beguilingly.

Of the three composers included in this collection it is John Blackwood McEwen who is the true “Scottish Impressionist”, showing distinct French influences in his piano music. Not so much in the Four Sketches, which includes a brief 5/4 “Minuet” and a dazzling closing Humoresque, or the Sonatina which, with its Celtic flavours, is very much his own – especially the charming central Andante semplice – but in the Three Keats Preludes (each prefaced by a fragment of the poet’s verse) and even more in the atmospheric triptych, On Southern Hills, the influences of Debussy and Ravel are clear. The Five Vignettes, written while on holiday in Cap Ferrat during May 1913,are lighter, but still evocative, especially the engaging Petite chérie, while the toccata-like finale is a bustling image of a motor boat on full throttle. Excellent performances from Murray McLachlan and good recording. *** (“Outstanding”)