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James Macmillan: A Scotch Bestiary; Piano Concerto No. 2

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Scott Paulin
Judging from A Scotch Bestiary, either Scotland has some very curious native wildlife or else composer James MacMillan has a wildly inventive imagination. Of course, many of MacMillan's earlier works have already proved the latter point, so it's no surprise that this postmodern Carnival of the Animals dreams up a unique menagerie. From a "Cro-Magnon hyena" to a "red-handed, no-surrender, howler monkey," and from "Queen Bee" to "Jackass Hackass," MacMillan's Bestiary is populated by jokes that you'd probably have to be Scottish to fully understand, but that doesn't detract from appreciating the work's abundant musical wit. Besides being a suite of animal portraits, A ...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Scott Paulin
Judging from A Scotch Bestiary, either Scotland has some very curious native wildlife or else composer James MacMillan has a wildly inventive imagination. Of course, many of MacMillan's earlier works have already proved the latter point, so it's no surprise that this postmodern Carnival of the Animals dreams up a unique menagerie. From a "Cro-Magnon hyena" to a "red-handed, no-surrender, howler monkey," and from "Queen Bee" to "Jackass Hackass," MacMillan's Bestiary is populated by jokes that you'd probably have to be Scottish to fully understand, but that doesn't detract from appreciating the work's abundant musical wit. Besides being a suite of animal portraits, A Scotch Bestiary is also an organ concerto, and the soloist -- the supremely virtuosic Wayne Marshall -- engages in as much zoological masquerading as the rest of the orchestra combined, coming into the foreground especially in the work's chaotic final section, "The menagerie uncaged." The companion work, MacMillan's Piano Concerto No. 2, isn't quite so wild a ride, but it does build up some maniacal momentum. Dance is of the essence here -- the concerto was commissioned by the New York City Ballet and premiered in 2004, the same year as the Bestiary -- and MacMillan employs whirling Scottish jigs and reels to fit the bill, adding in echoes of the mad scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (a Scottish heroine, lest we forget) for an extra layer of dementia. As the piano soloist, Marshall is no less impressive here than he was as the Bestiary's organist, and Chandos' recording captures the raucous contrasts of both works with superlative clarity.
All Music Guide - Blair Sanderson
Listeners familiar with Scottish composer James MacMillan through such acclaimed works as "The Confession of Isobel Gowdie" 1990 or the "Seven Last Words from the Cross" 1993 may suspect that his music is usually somber and more than a little dour; indeed, his religious and politically themed pieces are quite earnest, and have given some the feeling that it might do MacMillan good to lighten up. Well, he has, though perhaps not to the point where his music is genuinely lighthearted or funny, though that appears to be the intention in his variations for organ and orchestra, "A Scotch Bestiary" 2003-2004. These characterizations of animals, organized into two unequal movements -- I. The menagerie, caged, and II. The menagerie, uncaged -- have a sharp, satirical edge that keeps the listener alert for stylistic references and quotations. But there is little obvious in MacMillan's music, and unless one is fully aware of the humans he is mocking i.e., types well-known in Scotland and presumably identifiable elsewhere the musical jokes fall flat. Because of its veiled allusions and unduly harsh music -- rarely tonal, and stridently dissonant in many spots -- this piece is not a light zoological frolic in the vein of Saint-Saëns' "Carnival of the Animals," and buyers should beware. The "Piano Concerto No. 2" 1999, 2003, which has been choreographed as a ballet, is an energetic work that evokes both Celtic dances and minimalism in an odd mixture of vigorous rhythms and hypnotic repetitions; the kinetic opening of the piece is balanced with soft reflections for the strings in the slow middle movement, and comic parodies in the closing movement. Because of its tunefulness and rhythmic vitality, this work is actually more fun than "A Scotch Bestiary," and demonstrates that MacMillan can be quite witty after all. Wayne Marshall's virtuosic playing of both the organ and the piano is interesting to hear and compare, and the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by the composer, is vibrant, colorful, and focused in these excellent-sounding premiere recordings.
Gramophone - Andrew Achenbach
In both works Wayne Marshall covers himself in glory, as, for that matter, does the BBC Philharmonic under the composer’s direction. The sound is superlative to match. MacMillan’s legion of admirers needn’t hold back.
BBC Music Magazine - Stephen Johnson
A Scotch Bestiary is full of a black vitality which always threatens to explode into pure chaos.... It’s all brought off with tremendous zest by Wayne Marshall and the BBC Philharmonic.

In both works Wayne Marshall covers himself in glory, as, for that matter, does the BBC Philharmonic under the composer’s direction. The sound is superlative to match. MacMillan’s legion of admirers needn’t hold back.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 7/25/2006
  • Label: Chandos
  • UPC: 095115137727
  • Catalog Number: 10377
  • Sales rank: 392,949

Tracks

Disc 1
  1. 1–14 A Scotch Bestiary, for organ & orchestra - James MacMillan & James MacMillan (33:42)
  2. 15–17 Piano Concerto No. 2, for piano & string orchestra (In memoriam Edwin Muir) - James MacMillan & James MacMillan (29:57)
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Album Credits

Performance Credits
Wayne Marshall Primary Artist
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