In a press interview in Cape Town in 1964, Erik Chisholm was asked about the chief turning point of his career. He replied: "When I first became acquainted with "Piobaireachd" bagpipe music - later with the instrumental art music of India."
Both influences are the starting-points for Chisholm's First and Second Piano Concertos respectively. Now with the impending release of the magnificent new Hyperion CD (CDA 67880), we can enjoy both works in superlative performances and first class sound and can begin to explore and gain greater understanding of these two very original contributions to the 20th Century piano concerto repertoire.
This is not the place to analyse Erik Chisholm's "Piobaireachd" Concerto. John Purser has done this to perfection in his liner notes for the CD. The work is also thoroughly assessed in his biography of Chisholm 'Chasing a Restless Muse' (Boydell and Brewer, 2009), but some further historical background might be of interest. Some sources give a date for the completion of Chisholm's First Piano Concerto as 1932; however, there are references (notably in M. Tuffin: 'Catalogue Raisonee' ) to some sort of public performances given (a) in April 1930 in Glasgow, albeit in a reduced two-piano form; Chisholm as soloist alongside James McKinlay and Cecil Cumberland as piano-duet orchestra. Later that year on 6th May (b) in Stevenson Hall with Chisholm alongside Harold Thomson and Patrick Shannon in similar mode. Be that as it may, Chisholm continued to work on the piece and it eventually received an official premiere in 1938 with the composer as soloist and the Scottish Orchestra, conducted by Ian Whyte in a broadcast performance from Edinburgh. The public premiere, by the same soloist and orchestra but with Aylmer Buesst conducting, was given in Glasgow on 20th January 1940. In 1953 the conductor Sir John Barbirolli is known to have expressed interest in the Concerto, and its soloists have included Andor Foldes, Kendall Taylor, Adolph Hallis and Agnes Walker. Prior to the recent Hyperion release, Murray McLachlan and the Kelvin Ensemble (conductor Julian Clayton) recorded a fine live concert performance in Glasgow in August 2000, released on Dunelm (now 'Divine Art') in 2001.
After the premiere the reviewer in the 'Glasgow News' wrote: "[The First Concerto] is a full-scale work in four movements, and builds up its Scottish qualities on a foundation of pibroch devices and national dance rhythms. In the first movement a series of changeful moods creates an atmosphere of contemplation in Celtic terms; the Scherzo gives the more combative side of the Gaelic temperament; the Adagio expresses a characteristic melancholy; the Finale develops its lively qualities on Scottish dance figures."
Hearing the new Hyperion recording is a revelation; the immense range of Chisholm's orchestral colour and harmonic originality emerges in technicolour sonority. This confirms my opinion that these two concerti break entirely new ground in the 20th Century and stand alongside the 3 concerti of Bela Bartok in this respect, without in any way being derivative of them.
Michael Jones 2012