Saturday, October 17, 2009

This week I listened to

Chisholm: Piano music
Murray McLachlan
Divine Art

The music of Erik Chisholm can be summed up, not unfairly, in a single word: "McBartok". Which is to say that, like Bartok, he made heavy use of folk tunes and rhythms in his work. Murray McLachlan has recorded several volumes of Chisholm's music, with more on the way. Have a look at John France's thorough review of discs 1-4 on MusicWeb. France says "this eye-opening cycle ... is one of the musical discoveries and revelations of the Twenty-First century". I downloaded a bunch of it from eMusic, mixing from the first 4 discs. So far I've listened to the Straloch Suite, the sonata "An Riobain Dearg", and the first 8 Piobaireachd. All of it's fascinating, and some of it is really good. The very enjoyable suite is based on an early 17th century lute book and as a result is populated with various old tunes, while still being clearly a modern (1930s) work. The sonata, from 1939, is a big work, its most striking movements being the highly propulsive Scherzo and the "Lament for HMS Thetis", a darkly moving piece that refers to a pre-war submarine disaster that killed 99 sailors; it's a vivid piece of water music (well, underwater, really - I don't mean that facetiously; you'll know what I mean when you hear it). The Piobaireachd are all based on bagpipe music, but again modern in nature. I don't think Bartok ever gave any of his works a title like "Maclean of Coll Putting His Foot on the Neck of his Enemy".

Field: Being Dufay
John Potter; Ambrose Field

These are electronic soundscapes based around some vocal music by 15th-century composer Guillaume Dufay. This had the potential to be nothing but gimmicky crossover, but it works well, for two main reasons: Field's electronica is generally understated and always anchored to the Dufay phrases, and John Potter is in wonderful voice. That said, it's the sort of album you need to be in the right frame of mind to listen to. That said, the opening track is one of the most gorgeous things ever.

Bacewicz: Violin concertos nos.1, 3 and 7
Joanna Kurkowicz; Polish RSO/Lukasz Borowicz

Good stuff from a Polish composer I'd not heard before. The concerto no.7 has a ghostly middle movement, and the first has a vaguely classical feel, but the best of the concertos is the third, a lyrical work making use of folk tunes. It deserves to be much better known, which can also be said about the Overture that closes the disc, a good old-fashioned romp.

Kalliwoda: String quartets
Quatuor Talich

An absolute gem. Kalliwoda was, according to his Grove entry, "highly esteemed during his lifetime", although the writer concludes by saying "Many of his pieces succumbed to the fashionable demand for mere prettiness and fell into the category of popular music". The horror! While I'm not qualified to speak of the compositional technicalities of these three quartets, I can vouch for their sheer entertainment value. The first has a pizzicato Scherzo with a lovely singing interlude; the second has a lovely Adagio with one of those heart-melting melodies that seems to have existed forever; and the third's finale is the catchiest damned thing. I'm gonna have to take out the Essential Listening stick again.

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