Energy and Passion: John McLeod Orchestral works

Post Date: 26 May 2018
Post Type: Piano Things


This new recording of four highly contrasted orchestral works on the Delphian label is a phenomenal achievement not only from the miraculously ever- youthful composer ( he may be in his eighties but he conducts three of the four works here with remarkable confidence, precision and flair) but also for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, who play with extrovert zeal and precision throughout. And the disc is a massive triumph too for the extraordinary percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, soloist in the epic five movement Percussion concerto. The work was originally written for Glennie back in 1987 and she brings effortless authority and magisterial command to the huge emotional range of the work, which extends to include two scherzos and a hypnotically charged central ‘Nightscape’ ( inspired not only by Bartok but also, touchingly, by the Callanish stones on Lewis) as well as a powerfully assertive finale with festive fanfares. A strikingly impressive major work of our ti me.

The young conductor Holly Mathieson directs the most recent piece on the disc, the Nielsen inspired ‘Out of the Silence’, completed in 2014 and premiered by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra the following year. This is elegiac and reflectively spiritual in its impact, and includes transcribed material from McLeod’s fifth piano sonata which appears as something of a foil to brief quotations from Nielsen’s fourth symphony and clarinet concerto. Concentrated and meditative music that lingers in the mind long afterwards.

‘The Shostakovich connection’ is an equally powerful, direct and exciting work. It dates from 1974 and , in addition to quoting the famous ‘DSCH’ motif, makes use of material from both Shostakovich’s fifth symphony ( slow movement) and his 12th quartet ( opening). The overall flavor is nothing like Shostakovich, but the references , particularly to the symphony, are immediately evident. A real display piece for orchestral exuberance and elan.
Finally McLeod’s lighter side is evident in the orchestral version of his five Hebridean dances, immediately attractive and infectiously characterful movements based on folk material which the composer worked on for a 1982 Scottish chamber orchestra commission. Scottish equivalents of Bartok’s six Romanian Dances maybe- certainly McLeod’s Dances have proved amongst his most frequently performed works, both in its solo piano and orchestral versions.

Fabulous clarity as well as warm resonance in terms of sound production as captured by Paul Baxter in the RSNO Centre, Glasgow. Informative liner notes from Stephen Petitt.