Lawrence Power / Martyn Brabbins / BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

MacMillan: Symphony No 4; Viola Concerto

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MacMillan: Symphony No 4; Viola Concerto Review

by James Manheim

Composer James MacMillan is best known for his rather fervent choral works, but it was with instrumental music that he first came on the scene, and to which he has increasingly often turned. The two works here date from the middle 2010s and give an idea of his contemporary thinking. The Symphony No. 4, a 40-minute work in a single movement with aspects of sonata form, is not exactly an easy listen but rewards close attention and the careful performance given it by the BBC Philharmonic under Martyn Brabbins. It is a bit Wagnerian with its four motives laid out at the beginning (representing, MacMillan says, "rituals of movement, exhortation, petition, and joy"), developed, and mixed with quotations from the Missa Dum sacrum mysterium of Renaissance composer Robert Carver. More than Wagner, the work brings Bruckner to mind with its scope and large contrasts anchored by evocations of Renaissance polyphony. The degree of contrast in the Symphony No. 4 may be greater, in fact, than in the more listener-friendly Viola Concerto, which was composed for violist Lawrence Power and takes great care with the soloist-orchestral balance. The musicians are aided in that quest by fine BBC Studios MediaCity sound. For those wanting to try out MacMillan's instrumental music, this makes a reasonable place to start.

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