MacMillan has met with a good deal of international success,
and for good reason: he’s one of the rare composers who actually
takes the time to write music of substance and structure, devoid
of the episodic blips, bleeps and snarls that make much modern
music fall somewhere between boring and unbearable. Couple this
with a dramatic flair not seen since Benjamin Britten and a
fine knack for choosing good texts and meaty subject matter,
and you get some winsome art indeed.
these three interludes from MacMillan’s 2007 Opera The Sacrifice
are any indication of the quality of the whole work, then
we have something indeed to look forward to, and should encourage
Chandos to release a recording of the complete opera. MacMillan
is obviously influenced by Britten, and these interludes, although
quite original, do bear the handprint of the Sea Interludes
from Peter Grimes in the way that they conjure up
such a picturesque atmosphere. Colorful orchestrations and rich,
pungent sonorities make this music gripping from the start.
Concise and well constructed, the listener’s attention is grabbed
from the get-go and held until the end. Of particular merit
is the brilliant Passacaglia. It is nice to see a modern
composer mastering such an ancient form while still making it
1998 cantata Quickening is scored for very large forces,
and is clearly modeled structurally on Britten’s War Requiem.
The subject is childbirth, perhaps more accurately conception,
and was inspired by the recent fatherhood of both composer and
librettist. The texts are exceptionally well crafted, but I
would caution listeners first to sit down with words in hand
as the thick orchestral textures and large choral forces make
the text a bit difficult to understand on first hearing – this
despite the CBSO Chorus’s excellent enunciation.
uses his available sound palette to full effect here. His use
of unusual percussion instruments adds a layer of the exotic
that nicely punctuates the rather mysterious and wonderful nature
of the subject at hand.
is often said that composers do not always make the best interpreters
of their own music, but in this case it is safe to say that
MacMillan’s ideas for execution are as solid as his ideas for
composition. He leads performances that are dramatically well
paced, and has chosen outstanding forces. The magnificent CBSO
Youth Chorus deserves special mention for their haunting virtuosity.
is a work that may take more than
a single hearing to sink in, but it is well worth the effort.
MacMillan has something significant to say, and he says it eloquently.
Whether this work will find a permanent place in the repertoire
remains to be seen, but this performance is an introduction
that bodes well for the future.