MacCunn Orchestral & Operatic Works
“Another hugely enjoyable Hyperion rescue-act” was AA’s initial term of welcome for the previous disc in the Scottish Romantics series (5/95), devoted to compositions by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. It will serve for the Hamish MacCunn issue too. MacCunn (1868-1916) was 21 years Mackenzie’s junior, and died (of throat cancer, and with his son fighting in France) 19 years before his fellow Scot, in whose autobiography he goes unmentioned. He was in the first generation of students at the RCM, from which he promptly withdrew, not liking it there. His studies nevertheless equipped him to write a highly successful concert overture (The Land of the mountain and the flood) at the age of 18, and to pursue a vigorous career as composer and conductor, in which capacity he took the Carl Rosa opera company through the first performances in English of Siegfried and Tristan und Isolde. His opera Jeanie Deans, an adaptation of Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian, was acclaimed at its premiere in 1894 and held its place in the repertoire till around 1920: “arguably the finest serious opera in the late Victorian period”, according to Nigel Burton in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a claim which sheds a little of its lustre as one enquires into the competition.
The opera is represented here in extracts that are just about impressive enough to encourage a hearing of the whole. Effie’s lullaby is a touchingly beautiful song, and the duet with Staunton, sung while the Porteous Riots are in progress off-stage, has genuine dramatic tension and pathos. The three concert overtures which introduce the programme command admiration for their effective scoring and some warmer response to the surge of melody charged with a strong rhythmic impulse. Shaw’s remark that “any ardent young musician can pick up these tricks of being solemn on the trombone, pastoral on the oboe and martial on the side-drum” has some truth in it, as does his judgement of