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James MacMillan Veni, Veni, Emmanuel - MacMillan Series Vol 1 (Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic; Colin Currie; Gordan Nikolic) Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A tour-de-force world premiere is the star attraction of this great release.

Charlotte Gardner 2012

James MacMillan is one of the most successful composers alive. He’s also one of the most universally enjoyed, his music drawing on his Scottish heritage and Catholic faith, along with Celtic folk tunes and the music of the Far East, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, to produce a sound that's melodically rich and rhythmically exciting.

In recent years, though, his reputation as an international conductor has also grown. From 2000 to 2009 he was composer/conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, and since 2010 he has been Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic. He has recorded his music with this orchestra before, but now they're embarking on a four-CD project with Challenge Classics. It promises to be an exciting quartet for a couple of reasons. Firstly, in an era when we've come to expect orchestral discs to be taken live at concerts, these have been recorded especially in the studio. Secondly, each disc will feature a world première recording.

Volume One may be named after MacMillan's multi-faceted percussion concerto (brilliantly performed here by soloist Colin Currie), but the curtain-raiser is the disc's world première track. A Deep but Dazzling Darkness, Macmillan's 2002 concerto for solo violin, ensemble and tape, was first heard at the opening of LSO St Luke's in 2003. MacMillan describes the work as offering “contrasts in light and shade, celebration and foreboding”. In reality, the combination of unsettling taped vocal sounds, the orchestra in its lower registers, and the violin's taunt, acerbic lines amount to an overriding feeling of darkness and foreboding.

The soloist at the LSO St Luke's première was Serbian violinist Gordan Nikolic, who has reprised the role for this recording to produce a tour-de-force of an interpretation. He renders electric MacMillan's extraordinary, bleak-sounding Eastern European gypsy strains, building them to a skin-prickling climax of virtuosic frenzy. Meanwhile, the orchestra gives a performance so highly charged you'll be rushing for the programme notes to search for the spiritual meaning behind the piece.

The other works, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel and Í (A Meditation on Iona), Macmillan's 1996 evocation of the landscape and history of the island of Iona, are equally strongly delivered. Roll on, volume two.

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