Macmillan, Macrae

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Macmillan,Macrae
LABELS: Delphian
WORKS: Piano Sonata; Angel; For Ian; Piano Sonata
PERFORMER: Simon Smith (piano)
It’s hard not to admire the courage, dedication and sheer stamina of the 20-year-old British pianist Simon Smith – especially in the relentlessly challenging first movement of the Piano Sonata by the young Scottish composer Stuart MacRae. This is one of MacRae’s earliest major works, and if at times it sounds like a strongly talented, imaginative young composer battling against an academic modernist superego, those former positive elements do win out, especially in the glacial finale.


In the MacMillan pieces, however, Smith, despite his technical control and obvious belief in the music, isn’t quite as adept at conveying a sense of the dramatic and expressive shape of each piece as John York on Black Box (reviewed last December). Somehow York seems able to dig deeper into the emotional tissue of the notes, whether it’s in the tenderly folkish For Ian or in the wintry lyricism at the heart of the Piano Sonata. Even the miniatures Birthday Present and Barncleupédie come across as more poetic, less quirky in York’s performances.


Delphian’s recorded sound is also duller and more distant than the Black Box, which certainly doesn’t make Smith’s performances sound any more immediate. Stephen Johnson