Chisholm: Piano Concertos Nos.1 & 2
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Erik Chisholm was a fascinating musical polymath a composer, conductor and performer as well as a collector of folk music from his native Scotland. Born in Glasgow in 1904, his attitude to music was progressive, looking towards central European modernism (he was dubbed MacBartok).
Danny Driver is superb... and is partnered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under one of the most exciting young British conductors I have heard for some time...this disc has to be counted one of the most important contributions to British recorded music for some considerable time. --International Record Review, IRR Outstanding
It would be difficult to over-praise this wonderfully enterprising disc … The challenge for both soloist and orchestra is immense and it would be hard to imagine playing of a more coruscating brilliance, delicacy and affection. The superb Danny Driver gives his all... --Gramophone
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The Piano Concerto No. 1, titled "Piobaireachd" (or "pipe music"), originally dated from 1932 in its first version. Chisholm had revised the concerto by December 1937, and the revised concerto received its first performance in 1938 on a radio broadcast from Edinburgh. The first live performance was from Glasgow in January 1940. In his liner notes, John Purser specifically identifies particular piobaireachd selections as inspiration for melodic material of the first three movements, while the finale takes dance rhythms more than a particular song as the starting point. Perhaps it's little wonder then that a stereotypically "Scottish" feel to the musical atmosphere and harmonies is present in this concerto. IMHO, the concerto tends to be rather reflective in nature and avoids obvious piano pyrotechnics.
Chisholm finished his Piano Concerto No. 2, titled "Hindustani", in 1949, and the concerto received its premiere in November 1949 in Cape Town. Its UK premiere was in 1950 with the BBC Scottish Orchestra. As with the first concerto, with this second concerto, Chisholm took separate Indian ragas as melodic starting points for each of the respective movements. However, again IMHO, in this instance, I didn't necessarily get a sense that the music seemed stereotypically "Indian" in sound as a result. If anything, portions of this second concerto sound rather like Bela Bartok, a curious description because Chisholm apparently received the nickname "MacBartok" in his own lifetime, because of his particular ethnographic interest in Scottish music in the same way that Bartok was interested in Central European folk music.
In both cases, my own impression is that the concerti have a somewhat discursive, almost "shaggy dog" feel about them in their overall form, if the metaphor makes sense. The second concerto strikes me as the more overtly virtuosic in terms of the piano writing. However, continuing with the "MacBartok" metaphor and implicit comparison, my impression is that Chisholm is rather less taut and concise in his writing compared to Bartok. Also, I honestly didn't detect any "big tunes" that one normally expects/wants in a piano concerto.
In this recording, young talent takes center stage, in the form of principal artists Danny Driver (piano) and Rory Macdonald (conductor). Driver dispatches the piano writing fluidly, while Macdonald provides solid orchestral support from the podium. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is its usual stalwart self, as with so many Hyperion recordings of relatively unfamiliar concerti like in the series "The Romantic Piano Concerto".
If you're interested in British (OK, Scottish) concerti off the beaten path, these are worth a listen.