MacMillan: Visions of a November Spring: Etwas Zurückhaltend, For Sonny, String Quartet No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Delphian
ALBUM TITLE: MacMillan: Visions of a November Spring: Etwas Zurückhaltend, For Sonny, String Quartet No. 3
WORKS: Visions of a November Spring: Etwas Zurückhaltend, For Sonny, String Quartet No. 3
PERFORMER: Edinburgh Quartet

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Frantic, scurrying spurts of energy contend with altogether more thickly viscous material in the opening movement of James MacMillan’s String Quartet No. 3, premiered in 2008 and here given its first recording. The effect is almost of parallel universes, or of slithering, glutinous primal clay being electrified into being. At the movement’s apex is an extraordinarily vertiginous episode like the clacking of a thousand plague locusts. It’s brilliantly executed, as is the whole movement, by the Edinburgh Quartet players.

The middle movement is, if anything, even more remarkable, shredded, sul ponticello motifs, slashing tutti, and strange, percussive thuddings seared against the impinging silences. Some mitigation comes in the ‘patiently and painfully slow’ finale. A sad threnody, its pained, soaring violin melody unravels uninterrupted, though hedged and qualified by anxious harmonies. The performance has an intense beauty and concentration which MacMillan, the Edinburgh Quartet’s patron, must be thrilled by.

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Beside this piercingly vivid, fiercely autopsical piece, the other main works here, Etwas zurückhaltend and Visions of a November Spring, both inevitably seem more exploratory, less cogently argued statements. But for the Third String Quartet alone this stunningly played CD deserves investigation. Terry Blain