Macmillan: Kiss on Wood; 14 Little Pictures; Cello Sonata No. 1,

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COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: Kiss on Wood; 14 Little Pictures; Cello Sonata No. 1,
PERFORMER: Raphael Wallfisch (cello), John York (piano); Nash Ensemble


The symphonic element so tangibly present in James MacMillan’s orchestral works is no less vital to his chamber music. Significant contrasts of readily identifiable material mixing pageantry and pathos are the key to his large-scale discourse, a potent formula which tells with equal effect when transferred to a narrower canvas.

In the recent Cello Sonata No. 1, recorded by its first interpreters Raphael Wallfisch and John York, the rhetoric amounts to some of the most successful yet in MacMillan’s oeuvre, not excluding that of his ambitious Cello Concerto of 1997. The initial tension arising between Celtic-plainsong melody and quasi-medieval dance inventions, enriched with sensibility by the all-too-human voice of the cello, sustains its level of energy through to the enigmatic ending of the second of the two movements.

After the refreshing counterpoint of the piano miniature Lumen Christi, Kiss on Wood, originally for violin and piano, seemingly reverses the coin of MacMillan’s imagination. Yet the melody heard at the Cello Sonata’s opening clearly flows from the same source as that of this uplifting meditation.

Fourteen Little Pictures for piano trio binds its tough, resilient fragments into a convincing unity, a reminder that MacMillan’s music also encompasses the gritty and uncompromising.


Nicholas Williams