Mcewen: A Solway Symphony; Where the Wild Thyme Blows; Hills o’ Heather

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: A Solway Symphony; Where the Wild Thyme Blows; Hills o’ Heather
PERFORMER: Moray Welsh (cello); London Philharmonic/Alasdair Mitchell
John Blackwood McEwen succeeded Alexander Mackenzie as Principal of the Royal Academy of Music in 1924. Their workload there overshadowed their creativity and their music is now largely unknown, so Chandos and Hyperion are to be commended for revealing these gems. McEwen’s A Solway Symphony, although not quite so immediately appealing as his Grey Galloway (Chandos 1993), is, nevertheless, attractive and highly atmospheric. It shows influences of Bruckner and Sibelius. Mitchell catches all the rich shifting subtleties and glowing colours of Spring Tide and Moonlight. Welsh’s warm, elegiac tone admirably suits the charming Hills o’ Heather, a plaintive, nostalgic little piece, based on Celtic folksong, that deserves a place in the cello repertoire. Mackenzie’s music here demonstrates an impressive gift for comedy and drama; the Elgar-like nobility of Coriolanus contrasted with the wickedly ironic Twelfth Night (the pomposity of Malvolio is marvellously lampooned, while Sir Toby Belch’s music is joyfully exuberant). Mackenzie’s orchestration is highly imaginative and inventive – the Cricket sounds very realistic. Benedictus (1888), his best known piece, is sentimental and sweepingly Romantic; one can imagine it appealing to Elgar. The BBC Scottish SO plays with great panache and enthusiasm and the sound for both CDs is warm, clear and spacious. Ian Lace