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The world premiere recording of James MacMillan’s violin concerto A Deep But Dazzling Darkness, played by Gordan Nikolić, opens the first disc in a new Challenge Classic series in which the composer conducts the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic. It is heard alongside one of MacMillan’s most popular works, the remarkable concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel and Í (A Meditation on Iona) for strings and percussion, both performed by fellow Scot Colin Currie as percussion soloist.
James MacMillan, one of today’s most prolific, communicative and successful living composers, is also internationally active as a conductor. He became Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic at the end of 2010, and this disc is the first fruit of an initial three-CD recording project.
MacMillan’s musical language is flooded with influences from his Scottish heritage, Catholic faith, social conscience, and close connection with Celtic folk music, blended with influences from Far Eastern, Scandinavian and Eastern European music. He first became internationally recognised after the extraordinary success of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie in 1990 at the BBC Proms - where Veni, Veni, Emmanuel was also premiered, by Evelyn Glennie, in 1992. The concerto has since been performed more than 400 times.
Colin Currie has been the driving force behind new percussion repertoire for more than a decade. Forthcoming commissions include new concertos written for him by James MacMillan, Steve Reich, and Louis Andriessen, and he’s premiered recent works by Simon Holt, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Jennifer Higdon, Alexander Goehr, and Elliott Carter.
The Serbian violinist Gordan Nikolić gave the premiere of A Deep But Dazzling Darkness at LSO St Luke’s in March 2003. A commission from the London Symphony Orchestra, it is cast in a single 25-minute movement and notes the composer “offers contrasts in light and shade, celebration and foreboding”. The Times said it is “...tremendously dramatic, even by the standards of a composer whose mode of expression rarely falls short of volcanic… the work's subtext is music's power to comfort in times of darkness or conflict... ”
Recent major works by MacMillan include his St John Passion, and a Violin Concerto for Vadim Repin for which Netherlands Radio was a co-commissioner. His one-act chamber opera Clemency, first heard lat year at the Royal Opera House 2, will be staged by Scottish Opera at the Edinburgh Festival this summer, and Credo will be premiered at the BBC Proms.
MacMillan: a deep but dazzling darkness for solo violin, ensemble and tape
a deep but dazzling darkness for solo violin, ensemble and tape
MacMillan: ì (A meditation on Iona)
ì (A meditation on Iona)
MacMillan: Veni, veni Emmanuel concerto for percussion and orchestra
Veni, veni Emmanuel concerto for percussion and orchestra
“MacMillan's is a strikingly expansive view of his own piece, textures lightened, with a feeling of chamber music-making in many places...It's an absorbing spiritual rendition, and I prefer it to its more explicitly virtuosic predecessors.”
19th July 2012
“[Nikolic] 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.”
27th July 2012
“Veni, Veni gives the lie to the argument that percussion concertos are dependent on visual impact. MacMillan’s is an aural blockbuster, and Colin Currie, the soloist, dazzles with his dexterity and musical imagination.”
Awards Issue 2012
“Nikolitch is the potent violinist in his expressions of Shostakovich-like apprehension and the orchestra paints an unnerving backdrop of darkness and flickers of light. [Veni, veni] sounds as wonderfully fresh, imaginative, rhythmically impulsive and vibrantly colourful as it did all those years ago at its Proms premiere.”
The Arts Desk
6th October 2012
“What you miss is the visual element – being able to see the remarkable Colin Currie rapidly switching between marimba, timps, gongs and cowbells. Challenge Classics's production is handsomely done though – listen through a pair of decent headphones and you can visualise exactly what’s going on...It’s a wonderful piece, and this is a definitive performance.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.