Macmillan: Fourteen Little Pictures; In Angustiis I & II; A Different World; Kiss on Wood; After the Tryst; Walfrid, on His Arrival at the Gates of Paradise; 25th May 1967

COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Estile
ALBUM TITLE: MacMillan
WORKS: Fourteen Little Pictures; In Angustiis I & II; A Different World; Kiss on Wood; After the Tryst; Walfrid, on His Arrival at the Gates of Paradise; 25th May 1967
PERFORMER: Gregory Harrington (violin), Simon Mulligan (piano), Caroline Stinson (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 391651

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It isn’t just the range of styles in James MacMillan’s music that’s unusual for a composer today.
It’s also the manner in which it speaks. Fourteen Little Pieces for piano trio is wintry, fragmented
and as introspective as a late Shostakovich string quartet. It makes little attempt to invite the listener in, yet once you’ve entered this dark dreamworld it’s difficult to disengage from it.

After the Little Pieces comes a sudden and momentarily disconcerting change of sentiment with the warmly mellifluous folk lyricism of Walfrid, on His Arrival at the Gates of Paradise. We don’t expect contemporary composers to be searching and brittle one moment, disarmingly open the next, but here this contrast exists within some of the works, not just between them. A Different World
and the enduringly popular Kiss on Wood are pieces that can startle one moment, touch the next.

This (in the broadest sense) ‘catholic’ attitude – the refusal to exclude anything human, even on the grounds of supposed ‘good taste’ – is one of the things that makes MacMillan so refreshing. The other is his aural imagination. MacMillan may not be an innovator when it comes to sound effects, but so often the colours, textures and harmonies feel as though they have only just been discovered.

The musicians deserve a share of the credit for that: these are very loving, atmospheric performances, and beautifully recorded; the three instruments in Fourteen Little Pieces are particularly well balanced.

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Stephen Johnson