McEwen’s sultry and meditative style remembered

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hawick music live: In a year when the lives of two great composers, Giuseppe Verdi and Benjamin Britten, are being widely commemorated, it is particularly heart-warming to celebrate the distinguished work of Sir John Blackwood McEwen who was born in 1868 in East Bank Manse, Hawick. He went on to train in Glasgow and the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he eventually became principal. He was knighted in 1931 and died in 1948 in London.

Sunday afternoon, January 27, saw a large, appreciative audience gather at Tower Mill Theatre, Heart of Hawick to hear the violin and piano duo of Andrew Sherwood and Jim Letham. The concert began with a delightful performance of Mozart’s ‘Violin Sonata K. 379’, which, we were told, was written in the remarkably short time of one hour!

The so-called ‘Little Sonata No 4’, written by McEwen in about 1916, came next. This is a technically demanding but lyrical work in three movements and the players displayed great skill in interpretation and delivery. McEwen’s ‘Two Poems’, written in France in 1913, showed a sultry and meditative style and were reminiscent of Debussy.

In contrast, Scott Skinner’s ‘Cradle Song’, arranged by Jim Letham, was played, as was also Frederick D’ Erlanger’s lively and energetic ‘Tarantelle’.

To conclude, McEwen’s ‘Prince Charlie’, a rousing Scottish rhapsody based on familiar Scottish folk tunes, was performed, and a final encore of ‘Canaries’ by Poliakov brought the programme to an end, with the audience showing its enthusiasm in loud applause.

The huge output of music of this largely unknown Hawick- born composer should surely be more closely investigated and performed – certainly the programme showed great potential!