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Mike MILLS (b. 1958)
Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra (2016) [31:34]
John ADAMS (b. 1947)
Road Movies (1995) [16:27]
Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Symphony No. 3 (1995) [23:27]
Robert McDuffie (violin)
Mike Mills (piano/bass/guitar), John Neff (guitar), William Tonks (guitar), Patrick Ferguson (drums/percussion),
MCS Ensemble / Ward Stare
rec. Tree Sound Studios, Norcross, USA, 2016

The longest – and least significant – piece on this CD is the Concerto by Mike Mills, formerly from R.E.M. and a versatile rock musician. It is likely to offend no-one, but is better thought of as a suite for an identical ensemble than a genuine concerto. It is conceived as a series of sketches. The six movements are ‘Pour It Like You Mean It’, ‘On the Okeefenokee’, ‘Sonny Side Up’, ‘Stardancers’ Waltz’, ‘Nightswimming’ and ‘You Can Go Home’. As a work, it sits perhaps most obviously in the Crossover category. The music will doubtless give much pleasure to Mike Mills’s very many fans, but it lacks a sense of development and structure too much to be fully engaging. I did not dislike it, but I was too often bored by unmemorable melody and a sameness of tempo. There are enjoyable patches. The longest movement, ‘Stardancers’ Waltz’, begins with a few interesting ideas, but these are not very excitingly developed, and, at almost 10 minutes, the movement rather outstays its welcome. Overall, the piece is probably for Mike Mills fans only; there is insufficient substance to imagine other performers taking it up.

The pity is that the work is coupled with two fine performances of pices by Adams and Glass. They easily stand well in comparison with some of the best around, though for the Glass, I slightly prefer Marin Alsop’s marginally lighter account on her 2004 Naxos CD, coupled with a fine performance of Symphony No. 2. Still, Ward Stare’s performance does not disappoint and he has a fine ear for detail. Road Movies by Adams is an interesting and significant piece; the performance, very insightful and carefully prepared, brings out significant detail.

But is it worth buying a CD just for the couplings? The Mills is the selling point, so much so that the notes provide no information at all about the other two works. In previous reviews I have commented on thin notes from OMM, but it is especially poor here. Someone buying it for the Mills and unfamiliar with Adams might very well want to know more, only to be told nothing at all.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Nick Barnard


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