Scottish composer Stuart MacRae wrote the four works collected on this CD while in his twenties. The diversely scored pieces are strongly influenced by the aesthetics of European modernism and most tend to be angst-ridden or prone to frenzy. They demonstrate great technical proficiency and are successfully evocative, but, except for certain recurring gestures, such as the very effective use of hammered repeated notes and chords, these pieces fail to reveal a uniquely distinctive voice. MacRae's technical mastery, and his strong ear for color and gestural inventiveness, however, make him a composer to watch out for.
The Violin Concerto, which is notable for the transparency of its scoring, avoids the conventions of a virtuoso concerto and instead requires the soloist to take the lead in creating the atmospheres and textures that are of primary interest in the work. Christian Tetzlaff plays the solo part with conviction and unfailingly steady tone and is especially remarkable in the stratospheric writing of the second movement. In Two Scenes from the Death of Count Ugolino, an expressionistic and appropriately grotesque setting of a section of Dante's Inferno for voice and chamber orchestra, mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg sounds somewhat taxed at the extremes of range the work demands, but she brings a powerful dramatic intensity to the disturbing text. Conductors Ilan Volkov and Susanna Mälkki lead the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, respectively, in crisp and fully committed readings. The sound of the recording is clear, but a little too distant to be ideal.