Previously published on May 12
To be honest I blow hot and cold with James MacMillan’s music but I am definitely at the top end of the temperature scale with Symphony 4, given its world premiere at BBC Proms 2015 conducted by dedicatee Donald Runnicles (a performance now on Onyx) and I have also heard an account led by Martyn Brabbins (on May 2 last year in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall), relayed live by BBC Radio 3, before he and the BBC Philharmonic made this recording in MediaCityUK, Salford, on May 23 & 24.
May I direct you to my reviews of both concerts (links below) for some background, and say that, as a piece, MacMillan’s Fourth continues to give and that it engrosses throughout its forty continuous and panoramic minutes through emotional impact and striking orchestration. Brabbins and the BBC Phil pull out all the stops and Stephen Rinker’s engineering ensures that every detail of the multi-layered scoring, whether luminous or hard-hitting, and every dynamic, from chimed whisper to roof-raising fortissimo, is faithfully captured.
At the same sessions MacMillan’s half-hour Viola Concerto (2013), written for Lawrence Power, was captured. It opens in richly expressive terms before becoming whimsical and rhythmically striding, with dance-like elements. The opening of the second movement has its share of angst before the viola sings a sad if rather beautiful song, the orchestra at times searing, whereas the Finale scampers along brightly and raucously, occasionally reminding of what Bartók did with his native folk music although MacMillan has his own propulsive agenda, before, at roughly the movement’s halfway point, the music turns in on itself to plaintive slowness (with a flute masquerading as a Japanese shakuhachi), but all is well with the energised ending.
Like the Symphony, MacMillan’s Viola Concerto is an engaging listen in this its first recording, superbly performed in terms of Power’s committed solos and the alert, well-prepared, accompaniment. It’s good to have two of MacMillan’s finest works coupled together – on Hyperion CDA68317, released on May 29.