Erik Chisholm was a mildly modernist Scottish composer who found, in Cape Town in South Africa, a teaching position that also gave due scope to his remarkable talents as a conductor and pianist. Wartime service in India and encounters with the musical tradition there influenced Chisholm’s idiom in relation to structure as well as style. The processing of Indian rāg material through a Bartók-to-Prokofiev filter generates powerfully written, but rather anonymous results in much of the four-movement Violin Concerto (1950). Much of the most striking music is in the slow ‘Aria in modo Sohani’, with its hauntingly sustained opening for solo violin, solo flute and low pizzicato strings.
The Dance Suite, premiered in 1933 by Chisholm himself, shows what a fine pianist he must have been; again by far the most memorable movement here is the slow ‘Piobaireachd’ (Pibroch), whose interplay between piano and orchestra impressively reworks the idiom supposedly unique to the highland bagpipe. Perhaps the outstanding listening experience, however, occurs in From the True Edge of the Great World—Chisholm’s remarkable orchestral arrangements of three of his set of 24 piano preludes, each based on a traditional Scottish tune. The approach here is free fantasy rather than straight transcription; and the results, in ‘Ossianic Lay’ especially, show a truly rare musical imagination at work, with a Bax-like flair for mesmerising orchestral effects. All three works are graced with excellent performances and recordings, with Matthew Trusler and Danny Driver each delivering solo playing of panache.