The Scottish virtuoso pianist Murray McLachlan is a regular visitor to Nairn, and his latest performance for Music Nairn began with an all-Chopin first half.  The delicate Db-major Berceuse made for a gentle start, and Murray McLachlan negotiated the series of variations with quiet authority.  Having got us into a mood for Chopin, he then presented his readings of the complete 24 Preludes op 28.  The increasingly popular approach of performing the Preludes as a complete set allows the different 'movements' to comment on one another, and for the whole set to have a cumulative dramatic effect, and this was certainly the case with this performance.  Taking the long view, Murray McLachlan allowed an interaction between the contrasting sound-worlds of these very diverse pieces.  He was right to point out the remarkable way in which these Preludes prefigure the pianistic style of several composers of ensuing generations, and in his powerful interpretations, if he occasionally seemed to be forcing the tone of the MN Steinway, a compelling drive and energy and an overarching musicality ensured satisfaction. 

The second half began with a work composed specifically for him by Scottish contemporary composer John McLeod, the Piano Sonata no 5.  Pungently discordant outer movements framed a more expansive slow movement in a more romantic style, to which the work returns for its thoughtful conclusion.  Redolent of the music of Samuel Barber, both in its harmonic pungency and its lyrical fluency, McLeod's Fifth Sonata is an important addition to the piano repertoire.  Clearly intimately familiar with this music, Murray McLachlan found a very convincing line through McLeod's elegantly eloquent work.

This demanding programme concluded with Franz Liszts's enormous masterpiece, his B-minor Piano Sonata.  This was the musical and interpretative highlight of the evening, with Murray McLachlan cleverly gauging the work's series of moods with an uncanny consistency, leaving room dynamically for the final giant peroration.  His insightful reading brought us through the darkest shadows and the most radiant luminosity, making the final moments of deliverance utterly convincing.  In response to a well-deserved ovation, he offered a performance of the witty piano transcription by another Scottish piano virtuoso, Ronald Stevenson, of a Francis George Scott setting of a Burns poem, 'There's news, lasses, news', which brought this enjoyable recital to a quirkily witty and assertively Scottish conclusion.

D James Ross

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