MacMillan: Violin Concerto; Symphony No 4

Reviewed on Wed 02 Nov, 2016

MacMillan provides some good programme notes for both works, but my advice is to ignore them until you listen a second time. For starters, let the music work its spell unaided.

Rarely has a CD of new music engaged me quite as much as this one has, the Violin Concerto (2010) – which melds elements of song and dance – setting out like a stylistic cross between Stravinsky and Szymanowski before arriving at a second movement whose principal melody haunts me in the way that the slow movement of Debussy’s Quartet does. The mood soon darkens, then, at around the 5:30 mark, brightens again for a return to the realms of remembered childhood and folk song, a moment of the utmost poignancy. The finale enters to the militaristic sound of spoken German, and MacMillan provides his brilliant dedicatee-soloist Vadim Repin with a striking cadenza before bringing the work to a conclusive halt. The Fourth Symphony (completed last year) is dazzlingly original in passages such as the falling massed string nuances at 3:04, or the sudden explosion at 6:40, as if something has suddenly burst above us. The work’s home straight (from 29:43) is immense with a mushrooming tam-tam and, beyond that, thunderous chords and the mad pealing of bells. Cue up 32:29 and stay with it until the work ends around five minutes later. MacMillan provides some good programme notes for both works, but my advice is to ignore them until you listen a second time. For starters, let the music work its spell unaided. The superb performances are extremely well recorded. I predict an award somewhere along the line.
–Rob Cowan