John McLeod: Out of the Silence (Delphian)
★★★★ (out of five)
The late Michael Kennedy, lifelong Telegraph critic, once told me he lost interest in new music in his late sixties. Michael had known Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten and reckoned their successors were not up to the mark. We argued about the merits of Birtwistle and Turnage but his ears were not for the turning, and I respected the candour of his admission.
Myself, around the same age, I am still bi-curious: eager to see what the old hands are doing and keen to hear new sounds coming through. Nothing thrills me more than finding a composer I can love, rare as that may be under present trends of alienation operas and box-ticking diversity. So I am especially happy to report that an hour spent with John McLeod yields rich rewards, both in aural satisfaction and in the affirmation of a strong sense of musical continuity north of the border.
McLeod, 84, as been around for as long as I can remember. In the title work of this album he leads us gently out of darkness into light. A percussion concerto for Evelyn Glennie opens unexpected possibilities, like shavings of dark chocolate on a rich meat dish.
Totally absorbing is a piece titled The Shostakovich Connection, which I assume is based on the Russian composer’s major premieres at the Edinburgh Festival in the 1960s, most vividly the 12th-string quartet which weaves in and out of this work, alongside echoes of the fifth symphony.
A set of Hebridean Dances is more imaginative than the title indicates, delicate hints of open reels integrated in a treasurable piece. The Royal Scottish National Symphony Orchestra give zesty performances. Treat yourselves.