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COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Macmillan: Works for Chamber Orchestra with Soloists
WORKS: From Ayrshire; Tuireadh; Kiss on Wood; …as others see us…
PERFORMER: Linus Roth (violin); Julius Berger (cello); Lars Wouters van der Oudeweijer (clarinet); Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic/James MacMillan


The third volume in Challenge’s absorbing James MacMillan series contains pieces written for soloist and chamber orchestra. From Ayrshire was originally for Nicola Benedetti, but is played here with burnished lyricism by German violinist Linus Roth, who scorches the brief, ‘fast-reel’ second movement with virtuosity.

Dutch clarinettist Lars Wouters van den Oudeweijer also proves himself a committed soloist in Tuireadh (‘Lament’ in Gaelic), a 20-minute commemoration of the Piper Alpha North Sea oil‑rig disaster. Here the orchestra’s role is more prominent, and MacMillan elicits a magnificent response from the Netherlands string players, oscillating violently from hushed meditations to wild, slashing interjections and keening glissandos. Similar intensity informs Kiss on Wood, where Julius Berger’s solo cello is wonderfully rapt and concentrated.

…as others see us… (the title is from a Robert Burns poem), MacMillan’s very own ‘pictures at an exhibition’, is a more playful piece, comprising six short musical portraits. The dashings of marimba over a high violin line in ‘John Wilmot’ (depicting a mischievous monkey), and the merry irruptions of a foxtrot in ‘T.S. Eliot’ are typical of the many sharply imagined sonorities.

It’s hard to imagine any of these performances being bettered.


Terry Blain