Macmillan: Epiclesis; Ninian

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COMPOSERS: Macmillan
WORKS: Epiclesis; Ninian
PERFORMER: John Wallace (trumpet), John Cushing (clarinet); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Alexander Lazarev
Mainstream record companies have served James MacMillan well over the years, and this BIS release of concertos for clarinet and for trumpet rounds off and updates a discography that must be the envy of many composers. Few composers, on the other hand, have so well judged the means of satisfying listeners broadly sympathetic to the claims of new music, albeit whether through applied talent or burning originality is as yet too soon to tell. In the medium term, however, a work like Ninian, his 1996 clarinet concerto, generously affirms MacMillan’s unflagging craftsmanship and gift of rhetoric, as well as his penchant for religioso programmes that especially in this case – concerning a fifth-century Galloway saint – may seem a burden. Epiclesis (1993) solves the problems of the medium of trumpet and orchestra, one that even in the hands of a Birtwistle swiftly yields diminishing returns. Plenty of percussion and additional antiphonal trumpets bridge the divide of timbre, while MacMillan’s characteristic plainsong chorales sound almost newly minted. Transubstantiation is the music’s extra-musical subject, though questions about the real presence are less likely to occupy listeners’ minds than the composer’s interesting way of scoring for the orchestral thundersheet. Nicholas Williams