Mackenzie was born in Edinburgh in 1847. After studying at RAM and in Germany,
he returned to his home city, soon coming to prominence as a violinist and
conductor. He then moved to London in 1885, becoming Principal at RAM in
1888. He was an important figure in the early so-called renaissance of 'English'
(sic) music: however, unlike, say, Parry and Stanford, with whom he is
historically associated, his compositions are only rarely performed now -
though again you wonder why listening to this, the second CD devoted to
Mackenzie's music in Hyperion's Scottish series.
The Violin Concerto was written whilst Mackenzie was living in Tuscany, and
was intended for Joachim but after some prevarication he declined to play
it and Sarasate premiered the work at the Birmingham Festival in 1885. It
lacks any immediately memorable 'big tunes' that might make it an undeniably
popular work, and ity carries the obvious mark of both Mendelssohn and Brahms:
but if it clearly reveals how much British music was at this time in the
shadow of Continental, and more especially Germanic, academic strictures,
it is still an easily accessible work, full of pleasing musical quality with
continually attractive melodic invention.
Pibroch was written for Sarasate, and was fittingly completed
whilst in Scotland, at Braemar in August, 1889: the composer called it a
'Scottish effusion' and the work reveals a less stifling classicism with
more free-ranging musical exposition, akin to his other Scottish pieces,
some of which are featured on the first Mackenzie Hyperion disc. The opening
Rhapsody is a wonderfully lyrical piece, whilst the Caprice, following an
introduction, comprises a sequence of nine variations on the melody of Three
Guid Fellows, but with the later introduction of new material? builds
to an intricate coda. The theme for the Dance is derived from the 17th century
melody, Leslie's Lilt. The Scottishness of the work is more easily
assimilated into classical conventions, and helps to give it that extra appeal
beyond that often dry, craftsman-like academicism that marked so much of
the music of the period.