Molto lento [9'20]
As to the ‘Scottish’, I don’t know any particular reason why they don’t do it more frequently—except that, generally, British pieces are never in favour.
The Scottish Concerto is Scottish in every possible way. It is based on three well-known and old Scottish traditional melodies; it embodies and comments upon their character, both emotional and technical, and it draws its dramatic development from the lyrics associated with the tunes. It is declared to be Scottish, was composed by a Scot and, on this CD, is performed by a Scottish soloist and orchestra. But it is far from the romantic image of a Scotland of weeping glens and desolate moorlands, for this is a work of great wit, sentiment and panache, though however overt and open-handed it may seem, it has its own happy secrets.
The piano concerto in the nineteenth century became a quintessentially romantic form—employing the heroic genius and virtuosity of the individual’s assertions in the midst of the vast crowd of the orchestra, and this at a time when liberalism and nationalism were overturning the old regimes of Europe. But there is nothing jingoistic about the Scottish Concerto, and its moments of self-aggrandizement are often tongue-in-cheek. Apart from anything else, there is no sense of aggression or combat between soloist and orchestra; like the Tovey, but in a totally different manner, it is one of the most obviously cooperative of piano concertos and (once one understands its subject matter) it is easy to see why this must be so, for the work is a celebration of the masculine and feminine and their coming together—at one and the same time it contrives to be rhetorical and sprightly, and to create a pastoral idyll with the potential of a grand amour.
Mackenzie knew the words to the tunes he selected as the basis of the work, indeed he could not have summoned up these melodies without the words coming to the front of his mind—and this would be the case for any Scot as well versed as he in a tradition which he had already exploited in his Scottish Rhapsody No 2 (recorded on Hyperion CDA66764). Two of the most important studies of Scottish music of the period were dedicated to him (Professor J S Blackie’s Scottish Song in almost fawning humility, and John Glen’s Early Scottish Melodies) and Mackenzie’s character as a Scot was deeply appreciated by Stanford who, in 1921, dedicated his Interludes to him with the following tribute:
You have, throughout your happily long life, been a consistent supporter of all that is best. You have never bowed the knee to Baal. Scot you are, and canny you may be, as your birth-land proverbially expects. But your canniness has always been exercised to benefit others rather than yourself, and therefore I prefer to call it a wise humanity.
This was a ‘wise humanity’ which was nonetheless capable of double entendre and self-assertion. Alternative racier words to favourite Scottish songs were regularly referred to by the editors of the nineteenth century who, far from being prudes, let their readers know of the existence of bawdy texts, many of which were, and remain, genuinely unpublishable for a public which might want to teach the songs to their children. Mackenzie knew all this better than most and, as we shall see, he also had deep personal experience of the need for self-assertion.
The concerto opens with a splendid dignity derived from The Reel of Tulloch, one of the oldest bagpipe reels but one which is associated with the outlawed MacGregors, one of whom ran off with Iseabail Dhubh Thulach (with her passionate consent), an event followed by brutal family reprisals from which the couple escaped. Being a pipe tune, a piper is implied, and Mackenzie incorporates many of the stylistic elements that the Highland bagpipes have given to Scottish music. But after a dramatically assertive entry by the piano, it turns out that the main Allegretto is an irrepressibly skittish piece of writing which alternates and combines easily with an expansive, even grandiose theme, so that the music seems almost to dance upon its own self-importance. Its masculine self-assertion is indeed to be taken seriously—but never for too long! In this it reflects brilliantly the complex resonances of a story in which true love mocks the jealousy of its enemies.
Perhaps there was a personal meaning in this for Mackenzie, for his own marriage was deeply resented by his family (as bitterly and snobbishly recounted by his niece, Rebecca West, in her Family Memories); Mackenzie won, but he was free of base sentiments. After a brief cadenza incorporating the triumphant expansive theme and elements of The Reel of Tulloch itself the soloist leads to the heart of the concerto, in every sense of the word; for it is the human heart which evokes the tenderness of the tune The Waulking of the Fauld that underlies the slow movement. The title means the ‘watching over the sheepfold’—a classic situation for amorous pursuits—and the tune dates from the seventeenth century. It was originally a bawdy song, but in Alan Ramsay’s famous version it is associated with the soft singing of a girl in response to her shepherd lover’s pipe:
My Peggy sings sae saftly,
When on my pipe I play …
Though the pipes in The Reel of Tulloch are Highland ones and the shepherd’s pipe is a gentler instrument, the two are related—and it was not only in Burns’s The Merry Muses that the chanter pipe was a sexual metaphor. But just as Ramsay has softened the metaphor, so too Mackenzie has gentled the tune. Nonetheless, it is surely no accident that the melody is given to the cellos, for the cello has a woman’s shape. Ardent, and yet deeply nostalgic, the modal simplicity of the tune is asserted in the complex key of C sharp minor, and the innocence of the sentiment is expanded into an expression of love in which breadth and grandeur are now the unquestioned prerogative of all lovers. Mackenzie alternates this with delicate dialogues between piano, woodwind and horns, until the hazy drum-beat of summer heralds the return of the cellos. The movement ends with the oboe evoking the pastoral pipes, and the piano deciding the equivocal modality of the tune in favour of a blissful, contented E major.
The Finale is a wonderfully witty and knowing interpretation of Green Grow the Rashes O which, even in its mildest version, is one of the most happily suggestive of love songs: as Burns put it, ‘The sweetest hours that e’re I spent were spent amang the lassies O!’. This old tune makes its first appearance in the Straloch Manuscript of 1627–9 where it is titled Grein Greus ye Rasses—A Daunce, and this movement is certainly a dance of triumph and delight.
It starts with a reference to The Reel of Tulloch from the first movement, itself a triumphant dance; and there is no lack of mutual self-assertion, for upon their victory over her own family, Iseabail shouted ‘Give me a glass of your beer, love, and we shall dance the Tulaichean!’, but Green Grow the Rashes O is the theme which dominates—a theme of union rather than defiance. Of all the romantic composers who have used Scottish traditional melodies, Mackenzie is the only one to have done so with such a sophisticated yet unforced sympathy and musical understanding. The orchestra sets the scene, and the piano races to join them, itself fooling with the reel and the rushes, with a combination of pianistic and orchestral panache—the piano with block parallel chords, the piccolo cheeky and delighted as ever.
And then, quite unexpectedly, comes a strange, almost insouciant passage in E minor once again featuring the cellos—this despite Paderewski’s request that the tune be given to the piano. But Mackenzie, as we know, had his reasons; and they are underlined by Burns’s famous lyrics for Green Grow the Rashes O:
There’s naught but care on ev’ry han’
In ev’ry hour that passes, O;
What signifies the life o’ man,
An ’twere na for the lasses, O?
Perfect, the subtle reworking of The Reel of Tulloch so that it is now in feminine garb and played by the cellos: perfectly judged, the brief prospect (marked quasi dolente) of a life without women; perfectly judged, the reawakening in the knowledge that all is well and that love has triumphed. From this moment on the music chases itself into a wild celebration in E major, just to make sure that we understand that things have not ended in the same key as they began and that when it comes to love there is nothing better than action. There is no more appropriate way to describe the delight of the final Più mosso ancora than to quote Burns’s own concluding stanza for the song:
Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O:
Her prentice han’ she tried on man,
An’ then she made the lasses, O.
from notes by John Purser © 1998