Classical CD Reviews

CHISHOLM: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 – Danny Driver, p./ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./Rory MacDonald – Hyperion

An infusion of Scottish folk tunes and Hindustani music make these two twentieth century piano concertos attractive and different.

Published on May 10, 2012

CHISHOLM: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 – Danny Driver, p./ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./Rory MacDonald – Hyperion

CHISHOLM: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2 – Danny Driver, piano/ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./Rory MacDonald – Hyperion CDA 678880, 68:41 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Erik Chisholm (1904-1965) was once called ‘MacBartok,’ because, like Bela Bartok, he integrated the folk music of his homeland, Scotland, into his works. He was an excellent pianist and conductor who brought the music of contemporary composers (Hindemith, Szymanowski, Walton, and Bartok) to Glasgow. The fusion of a talented orchestrator with the use of Scottish folk tunes and Hindustani music makes these piano concertos original and fascinating.

Chisholm’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is subtitled ‘Piobaireachd’ which refers to the classical music of the Highland bagpipes. It’s a form in which the bagpiper states a theme that is developed with increasing virtuosity. Here, Chisholm uses an oboe to play the theme of “MacCrimmins Sweetheart,” a pensive lament on the death of a cow. Cattle procreation has been a major part of the Scottish economy for many years. Of course, Chisholm makes the Concerto his own, creating a musical portrait of the Highlands in his dialogue between piano and orchestra, with a jig to liven things up. A vivacious and majestic Scottish dance follows, with a spiky neoclassical twist that echoes Stravinsky and Bartok. The mysterious and hauntingly beautiful adagio provides contrast, as if the composer is exploring the depths of a Scottish loch. A twisting and turning reel is interrupted by a pensively romantic passage before hurtling toward a wild finish. This is a unique and very attractive piano concerto.

A tour of duty in the Far East during World War II and a friendship with the eclectic composer Kaikhosru Sorabji led Chisholm to his encounter with Hindustani music, which permeates his Second Piano Concerto (1949) ‘Hindustani.’ Each movement is based on an Indian raga, which denotes an emotional significance and a time of day. For example, the second movement is a theme and variations based on Rag Shri, associated with November and December and the early evening. Here the composer’s music is tender, beautiful, sensual and spiritual. It’s a contrast with the first movement, which has a more diverse emotional range, and a wilder musical tapestry. The final movement is colorful and cheerfully jubilant. This is a more serious and complex work than its predecessor, but no less involving.

Both of these works are significant and engrossing additions to the twentieth century piano concerto repertoire. Pianist Danny Driver plays with energy, brilliance and compassion and Hyperion’s expansive sound stage illuminates the orchestral textures.

This is a great release for those looking for new and interesting piano concertos.

—Robert Moon

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