The uncompromising music of James MacMillan offers the listener an opportunity to enter a wild, challenging world. BIS is doing contemporary music a great service by recording two fascinating concertos in stunning sound, with foremost musicians as soloists. Epiclesis is a concerto for trumpet and orchestra. It is dedicated to John Wallace, who is also the soloist on this occasion. MacMillan's extreme technical demands are dispatched with authority, the recording revealing the orchestral detail with exemplary clarity. Epiclesis is Greek for "prayer" or "plea." In the second section, two other trumpets join the main soloist in an aural representation of the Trinity. Ninian is a clarinet concerto written in response to the shadowy figure of its title, who was associated with 14 miracles. MacMillan's aural imagination is again impressive. The second movement ("Dream of Pectgils") is an athletic, spiky dance while in the final movement nightmarish sonorities stand side by side with naive, childlike ones. John Cushing (principal clarinet with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) gives a virtuoso account of the vividly imagined solo part. --Colin Clarke
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A few minor performance problems in these difficult to perform works are the only barriers to a five star rating.
Hearing this music gives one faith that contemporary music is in able hands and that genius is far from being the exclusive product of earlier times.
The clarinet concerto, titled "Ninian," refers to Nynia, saint of the Galloway region of Scotland, and is also performed by its dedicatee, John Cushing. It might be viewed as a vast study of metric shifts. It begins pummeling almost immediately, racing off with dramatic paragraphs for strings and brass, in a section called "The reiver and the bull." (Sometimes with MacMillan, I feel like I'm observing a huge fire-breathing beast, rearing up and destroying everything in its path.) The clarinet enters sounding almost lazy in comparison, before the orchestra quickly pushes it to greater extremes. Cushing's virtuosity is quite impressive throughout. Sections II and III are "The dream of Pectgils," and "A mystical vision of the Christ-child," respectively, and only increase the demands on the soloist, with the orchestra in fascinating displays of rhythmic invention and color.
Recorded by BIS with great clarity in Glasgow Hall, Scotland, the disc commands a wide dynamic range capturing all of MacMillan's complex effects. Whether the orchestra is at a hush or a barbaric roar, every detail registers with (sometimes) almost uncomfortable intimacy.