Mackenzie: Violin Concerto in C sharp minor; Pibroch

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COMPOSERS: Mackenzie
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Violin Concerto in C sharp minor; Pibroch
PERFORMER: Malcolm Stewart (violin)Royal Scottish National Orchestra/ Vernon Handley, David Davies
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66975
Neither of these works is as individual, characterful or indeed as Scottish-sounding as the shorter orchestral pieces on Hyperion’s previous Mackenzie disc. But they grow on you. The Violin Concerto (1884-5), which Joachim turned down but which Sarasate enthusiastically took up, has little of the vernacular about it – the finale is actually a Polish krakowiak, and the rest is in a firmly mid-European Romantic idiom. It’s excellently and expertly written, however, and well merits a place in the second division of Romantic concertos along with Bruch, DvorŠák and Saint-Saëns (three names that place, roughly, what the piece sounds like).

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The distance between the ancient, intricate, decorative variation form of Highland piobaireachd and the post-Classical theme and variation forms Mackenzie utilised in two out of three movements of his Pibroch suite is pretty vast, but at least the work does make use of a couple of genuine Scottish folk-tunes. Sarasate commissioned it because he’d been so impressed with the Violin Concerto, and evidently wasn’t disappointed. If anything this is a more flamboyantly virtuosic conception than the Concerto, and the booklet-notes’ comparison with Bruch’s Scottish Rhapsody isn’t entirely just: Mackenzie’s is the more integrated and inventive piece. The performances, in customarily fine sound, are highly sympathetic and committed; soloist Malcolm Stewart makes Mackenzie’s violin writing sound extremely impressive, and presents an eloquent case for these attractive works. Calum MacDonald