Macmillan: Britannia; The Berserking; Into the Ferment

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Britannia; The Berserking; Into the Ferment
PERFORMER: Martin Roscoe (piano); BBC Philharmonic/James MacMillan
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10092
A warm welcome back into the catalogue for James MacMillan’s Piano Concerto The Berserking. This new performance is every bit as exhilarating as the RCA/Peter Donohoe version (now deleted), but MacMillan and pianist Martin Roscoe manage to make the central point about masculine and feminine energies still more cogently. The progression from testosterone-fuelled strutting and stamping to sensuous lyrical calm emerges with clarity and drama. Before that there’s Britannia, a wild Ivesian collage of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon music with a polemical edge. Britannia allows the listener a good deal of leeway when it comes to interpreting MacMillan’s message, but in this performance it’s tremendously enjoyable: crudely funny one minute, hauntingly beautiful or impassioned the next.

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Into the Ferment, for schools orchestra and professional soloists, is a tone poem about a descent into drunkenness, but with a surprisingly upbeat, humanistic conclusion. As so often with MacMillan the range of styles – from dense, acerbic modernist textures to simple folk-lyricism – is immense, yet the music communicates with the warmth and compelling directness of a Mahler or a Tchaikovsky. Composers who turn to conducting aren’t always successful, but James MacMillan is emerging as a strong, assured interpreter of his own music, and the Chandos recordings do him full justice. Stephen Johnson