ALBUM TITLE: Macmillan
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Vadim Repin (violin), Gillian de Groote (voice); BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Donald Runnicles
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4157
A violin concerto doesn’t usually contain a children’s rhyme muttered at various points in German. But then not many violin concertos are like James MacMillan’s fantastical creation of 2009, delivered here in a fiery studio recording by Vadim Repin, for whom it was written. Dedicated to the composer’s late mother, MacMillan’s piece keeps drifting into memories and dreams, nightmares too: moods vividly captured by Repin’s high-wire acrobatics and furious scurrying, or numerous atmospheric surprises, including the tinkling of harp and crotales. Aggressive fortissimos (there are quite a few) don’t sound well in the dry acoustic, though the music’s mix of muscular vigour and Celtic magic still offers rewarding listening.
MacMillan’s Symphony No. 4, recorded at its 2015 Proms premiere, offers a similar tapestry, pulsing and dawdling through material ancient and modern, including quotations from one of the 16th-century masses by the composer’s fellow Scot Robert Carver, rising in homage from a brown bed of sepulchral strings. But the acoustic here is better and warmer. MacMillan’s art, too, is subtler and more spiritual: less prone to showy displays, more concerned with Rubik-cube shufflings of his four diverse elements – rituals, he says, of ‘movement, exhortation petition and joy’ – over a gradually accelerating 38-minute span. Donald Runnicles and his BBC forces navigate the arresting work’s excitement and beauties with fearless panache.