Macmillan: Northern Skies; Cello Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Kiss on Wood;

COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Deux-Elles
ALBUM TITLE: Macmillan
WORKS: Northern Skies; Cello Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Kiss on Wood;
PERFORMER: Henri Demarquette (cello), Graham Scott (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DXL 1115
James MacMillan is known principally for large-scale orchestral/choral works, full of vivid colours, extravagant textures and expansive gestures informed by a heartfelt commitment to the Catholic faith, liberation theology and Scottish nationalism. In his compositions for cello and piano, the music is no less intense, and several passages of the sonatas border on the aggressive.

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Even where there is no overt religious or political agenda, MacMillan’s music tends to map out spiritual or psychological journeys, and the sonatas, with strong echoes of Shostakovich and Messiaen in the second especially, depict anguished uncertainty in eternal contention with tranquil assurance.

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The first movement of the first sonata sets a mournful cello hymn against a charming, innocent, dancing piano theme, echoing the seven pieces for children that make up Northern Skies. Even here shadows of anxiety and sorrow flicker between the brighter, prettier tunes, but the set is full of beguiling and inventive writing, simpler and softer than the sonatas and the sombre Kiss on Wood. Demarquette and Scott realise serenity and anguish with equal conviction. Barry Witherden