Monday 8thOctober, 2018


Pianist Murray McLachlan was born in Dundee but spent most of his upbringing in Aberdeen. His career as a concert pianist has taken him all across the world and he is highly regarded across many musical circles. Murray is currently Head of Keyboard at Chetham’s School and a Senior Tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. His wife Kathryn Page is also a renowned concert pianist and chamber musician. They have three children all of whom are talented pianists in their own right. In fact the words ‘talented pianists’ hardly begin to describe how undeniably brilliant they really are. Oldest son Callum is currently abroad pursuing his career as a pianist but younger son Matthew and daughter Rose were both starring along with both parents in the opening event of this new season of Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts.

All the performances given by the McLachlan Family was absolutely amazing – one of the very best ever. They got what promises to be a fantastic new season off to a scintillating start.

The concert opened with Murray and wife Kathryn together in a piano duet by Schubert, his Fantasy in f minor D940 op. 103. The warm sympathy and affiliation between the two pianists illuminated their performance. Kathryn played the ‘primo’ part with Murray as ‘secundo’ but in passages where Murray had the ‘tune’ Kathryn withdrew gently to let his playing come through. Kathryn really made her melodic passages sing out while Murray gave her tender warm support. This work, as Murray explained in his opening remarks, was symphonic in its expanse. I loved the way in which the opening music came back several times to punctuate the music – great music and a thoroughly seductive performance.

The second performer in the concert was daughter Rose who had chosen an all Chopin programme, all from memory. She began with the Ballade no. 2 in which a slow gentle opening led into a passage of dazzling fireworks. In those more gentle passages, the colours which Rose was able to draw from the piano were delicious while the fireworks really crackled and sparkled.

The Three Nocturnes op. 9 were exactly what Chopin would have wanted. Smooth playing interacted with delicately played runs. The central Nocturne is the best known and it was an absolute delight.

Rose concluded her fabulous offering with an alluringly fluent Andante Spianato followed by a Polonaise Brillante which allowed her to demonstrate an impressive level of virtuoso pianism. To quote a line from the musical Gypsy, “Here she is world! Here’s Rose!”

Mum Kathryn and Dad Murray opened the second half of the concert with another even more magical duet, Rapsodie Espagnole by Ravel. As one expects from this composer, atmosphere and colour were everything. This was particularly appreciable in the opening movement Prélude àla nuit. Murray’s slow moving sound was like soft moonlight illuminating the landscape while Kathryn gave us sparkling starlight whispers.

The following three movements Malagueña, Habanera and Feria had a powerful Spanish flavour with the spirit of the dance percolating through the overall atmosphere of the work. As the programme note said, ‘The final Feria is a brilliant festival, complete with castanets”. Those were depicted by Kathryn’s piano ripples.

The final family member to perform was son Matthew also playing entirely from memory. He began with the Chaconne taken from a Bach partita for solo violin, filled out and expanded for piano by Busoni. Bach is probably the greatest of all composers and his music has been borrowed by the romantics, by jazz and pop performers and by electronic composers. Bach’s sterling qualities always come through triumphantly. Listening to Matthew’s performance where Busoni adds a full enrobing of romantic pianism, I was reminded of some of the Bach pieces re-scored for large symphony orchestra by Leopold Stokowski. Reminiscent of that, Matthew’s playing was fully symphonic and that with a real punch. In other sections there was a return to the original spirit of Bach played with fantastic muscularity by Matthew.

Up to this point, everything without exception in the concert had been ‘pure dead brilliant’. What was to follow however went way way beyond that. This was Matthew’s prodigiously virtuoso performance of Three movements for piano from Petrushka by Stravinsky. In this piece, it was as if Matthew, the piano and Stravinsky’s music ceased to be separate and became as one. Matthew’s hands flew over the keyboard in great leaps, stabbed chords, runs – everything in fact that any utterly crazy exacting composer could ever demand of a pianist. Stravinsky asked just that and Matthew McLachlan gave it to him at full value. At this point words to describe Matthew’s performance fail me. All that is left is to say to those who were there in Queen’s Cross, ‘Wasn’t Matthew beyond brilliant’ and to those who were not there, I feel so sorry for you. You have missed a unique performance by the McLachlan family.

There is however another chance to hear Murray McLachlan as a solo pianist this Friday at Haddo House at 7.30pm. He will perform in a concert entitled ‘The Pianist as Hero’.

Murray McLachlan and Family – 8th October 2018: Review