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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

James MACMILLAN (born 1959)
Fourteen Little Pictures (1997)c
Angel (1993)b
Lumen Christi (1997)b
Cello Sonata No.1 (1999)a
A Cecilian Variation for JFK (1991)b
Kiss on Wood (1993)a
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)a; John York (piano)ab; Members of The Nash Ensemble (Ian Brown, piano; Marianne Thorsen, violin; Paul Watkins, cello)c
Recorded: Angel Studio 1, London (Fourteen Little Pictures); Gateway Studio, Kingston School of Music (Angel, Lumen Christi, Cecilian Variation) and Champs Hill, Pulborough (Cello Sonata, Kiss on Wood), no dates.
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Fourteen Little Pictures for piano trio and the First Cello Sonata are the most ambitious works in this cross-selection of MacMillanís recent chamber music, at least up to 1999, for he has composed a Second Cello Sonata as well as several other short chamber pieces in the meantime.

A commission from the BBC to mark the 25th anniversary of the trio founded by Peter Frankl, György Pauk and Ralph Kirschbaum, Fourteen Little Pictures is actually much more than a mere suite of short, contrasted episodes. Actually, MacMillan tightly organised his material which, in spite of huge dynamic or emotional contrasts, is based on several linking elements strengthening the overall structure of this single movement piece playing for more than twenty minutes. The musicís emotional palette often draws on extremes, ranging from utter, almost folk-like simplicity to unbridled ferocity. The composer nevertheless keeps the whole proceeding under tight control and demonstrates once again his formal mastery in developing long-term structures.

Much of the same can be said of the First Cello Sonata although, on the whole, it is a much more complex and intricate piece, as well as emotionally more elusive. Once again, the music runs the whole gamut of MacMillanís expressive palette in which jigs and folk rhythms make fleeting appearances and are often confronted with or opposed to more abrasive outbursts, sometimes almost unreconcilably so as in the first movement when the celloís sorrowful song is counterpointed by a lively Jig heard from afar, as in a dream. (This episode is briefly restated at the close of the second movement.)

Kiss on Wood was originally written for violin and piano, and the present arrangement for cello and piano was made by the composer for Raphael Wallfisch. It is a paraphrase on a Good Friday versicle sung when the Cross is slowly unveiled and before the people are invited to kiss the wood of the Cross. A most moving short work representative of MacMillanís religious concerns often at the heart of his music.

Three short miniatures for piano complete this comprehensive survey of MacMillanís chamber music, superbly played by Raphael Wallfisch and John York who have a long working association with MacMillan, and by members of The Nash Ensemble who deliver a wonderful reading of Fourteen Little Pictures, a major work in the composerís output in spite of its rather deceptive, diminutive title. Warmly recommended.

Hubert Culot

 


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14 Little Pictures

Angel

Lumen Christi

Cello Sonata no.1
Mvt. 1: Face

Cello Sonata no.1 Mvt 2: Image

A Cecilian Variation for JFK

Kiss on Wood


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