JAMES MACMILLAN (b.1959): Symphony No. 4, Viola Concerto (World Premiere Recording)
Catalogue Number: 06V008
Description: The symphony is a powerful, intensely dramatic work of epic scope, in a readily accessible neo-romantic style that fulfils all the needs of romantic expression but in a modern tonality-based idiom. A great deal happens in this piece, and there is an unmistakable and potent sense of narrative, though the composer denies any programmatic intent. Amongst hints of Shostakovich, Messiaen, tintinnabulary new spirituality and a brief flirtation with post-minimalist propulsiveness, MacMillan weaves extensive quotations from a mass by the sixteenth-century Scottish composer Robert Carver into his complex tapestry of ideas, memorably introduced and periodically restated, by a vibrato-less consort of solo strings. This link to the sacred and historical is far from unusual in MacMillan's output, and neither is the drama of assault by the corruption of the world on the purity of faith, which seems to be a recurring theme of the symphony, in some stunning passages of conflict between martial battle music and the serene chant-based melodies, the latter increasingly ascendent. The work ends with the graphic collapse into chaos of the forces of opposition, and a triumphant conclusion. The half-hour Viola Concerto is in three movements. A lyrical, neo-romantic work, it nevertheless incorporates some intriguing archaisms - a "consort of viols" in the first and last movements, an underlying hymn-like quality to the second - and some innovative writing for the soloist. MacMillan places the soloist to the fore by finely judging chamber-music textures - including the 'viol' quartet - to accompany the viola, fully utilising the large orchestra only for climaxes. Lawrence Power (viola), BBC Philharmonic; Martyn Brabbins.