WORKS: Piano Sonata in E minor; On Southern Hills; Four Skhes,
PERFORMER: Geoffrey Tozer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9933
It’s tempting to describe unfamiliar music in terms of what we know. For instance, this disc of John McEwen’s complete piano works ranges from the slightly ‘Brahmsian’ Sonata of 1903 to the ‘impressionistic’ harmonies of three pieces called On Southern Hills, written in 1937. But none of the music is pastiche, or merely fashionable, and HC Colles in Grove’s Dictionary got it right when he said that McEwen’s style was serious but never dull, because he always remained free from convention.
McEwen had been a pupil of Tobias Matthay and wrote fluently and sonorously for the piano. If many of his ideas were less than immediately striking, the refined and subtle qualities of their treatment encourage further listening. The Sonata commemorated the Scottish soldier-hero Hector Macdonald, forced by his fellow officers to commit suicide rather than face a charge of pederasty. It is deeply felt, unsentimental and strong. After which the sophisticated wit and modernity of three Vignettes (1913) comes as a delightful surprise. The same limpid elegance informs the harmonically adventurous later pieces, which are most stylishly and evocatively played by Geoffrey Tozer. A better advocate of this high-quality and neglected music could hardly be imagined. Adrian Jack