Danny Driver / Rory Macdonald / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Erik Chisholm: Piano Concertos

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Erik Chisholm is a Scottish-born composer and friend of Bartók whose music has experienced a substantial revival. It's not quite correct to call him a Scottish composer, for the last two decades of his life were spent outside Scotland (mostly in South Africa), and Scottish nationalism is only one of the unique mix of influences in his music. It's not that he's "eclectic" in the modern sense. Chisholm grafted a wide variety of new musical experiences onto a basic core that draws on Stravinsky, Bartók, and perhaps Benjamin Britten without aping any of them. This said, the Piano Concerto No. 1 ("Piobaireachd"), whose subtitle means "pipe music," is heavily Scottish in flavor. The work was begun as early as 1932 and appeared in 1938. The introduction to the first movement strongly evokes bagpipes, and the other movements all have Scottish references, even more specific in the case of the slow movement variations based on the 18th-century Lament for Donald Bàn MacCrimmon. Yet the music never falls into stereotypical patterns. In a strange way it suggests the works of contemporary American composer Michael Daugherty, who draws as much on Stravinsky as Chisholm did but succeeds in putting his structures to very different effect. Although annotator John Purser suggests that the ragas used in the Piano Concerto No. 2 ("Hindustani"), premiered in South Africa in 1949, resemble those of bagpipe music, the work has a very different pitch content. Indian musicians have apparently stated that they find the work's Indian classical component convincing, and it's an intriguing experiment that occurred well in advance of the major vogue for Indian music touched off by Ravi Shankar and the Beatles. Pianist Danny Driver receives strong support from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Rory MacDonald in performances of palpable enthusiasm. Strongly recommended.

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