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MacMillan: Quickening, 3 Interludes from "The Sacrifice" / MacMillan, BBC Philharmonic, et al

Notes & Reviews:

On this release James MacMillan conducts 'Quickening' which is a large-scale complex work commissioned by the BBC Proms and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It uses poetry by a frequent Macmillan collaborator, Michael Symmons Roberts, and explores the themes of birth, new life and new impulses, but as Macmillan says, it also has a dark side from which hope is glimpsed. Premiered at the BBC Proms, the work is here performed by the BBC Philharmonic, which is joined by the Hilliard Ensemble and City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus. MacMillan is one of the UK's leading contemporary composers, whose writing has been hailed as some of the most distinguished since Benjamin Britten.

BBC Music Magazine
Quickening itself could be described as 'catholic' in many senses: in the music's daringly wide stylistic embrace; in the ritual element that interweaves surprisingly easily with purposeful symphonic thinking; in its blending of the sensuous and the mystical, its delight in monumental grandeur and its splendidly un-Anglo Saxon contempt for constricting notions of 'good taste'. Of course Quickening's success depends to some extent on its performers. Fortunately everybody here delivers magnificently. Under MacMillan's strong and persuasive direction each of Quickening's variegated parts falls perfectly into place. The three interludes from MacMillan's opera The Sacrifice are more than an interesting filler. The same exuberant invention can be found here as in Quickening... The sound is stunning...

Gramophone Classical Music Guide
Quickening is a 45-minute cantata to a text by Michael Symmons Roberts that both celebrates and explores the themes of birth, new life and parenthood. 'The title,' explains MacMillan, 'refers explicitly to the instant of conception - "the quickening of seed that will become ripe grain" - or the moment that a woman first feels her baby kick.' It's a hugely ambitious but never intimidating canvas, the sizeable forces required (four solo voices, children's chorus and chamber organ, mixed chorus and a large orchestra including triple woodwind and a battery of percussion) and MacMillan's deployment of them inviting parallels with Britten's War Requiem.

After the expectant wonder and awe-struck mystery of the opening movement ('Incarnadine'), darker images of violence, menace, war and fragility occupy the two central tableaux ('Midwife' and 'Poppies'), before the ecstatic apex and magical fade-out of 'Living Water'. There's absolutely no missing this music's visceral impact, spiritual fervour and strength of conviction, attributes that should hopefully ensure it a place in the repertoire.

A powerful experience, in sum, and a work well worth getting to know. It's preceded by the Three Interludes that MacMillan has drawn from his second opera, The Sacrifice, based upon an ancient Welsh tale (from The Mabinogion) of love, warring clans and self-sacrifice. Inspiration runs high in this communicative orchestral triptych, the second and third movements of which owe a not inconsiderable debt to the Passacaglia and Storm from Peter Grimes. It certainly whets the appetite for a complete recording of the opera.

Suffice it to say, the composer secures admirably disciplined and committed results from all involved. What's more, Stephen Rinker's sound boasts spectacular amplitude, definition and range.

Gramophone Magazine
Quickening is a 45-minute cantata... that both celebrates and explores the themes of birth, new life and parenthood. There's absolutely no missing this music's visceral impact, spiritual fervour and strength of conviction... Its preceded by the Three Interludes that MacMillan has drawn from his second opera. Inspiration runs high in this communicative orchestral triptych, the second and third movements of which owe a not inconsiderable debt to the Passacaglia and Storm from Peter Grimes. Suffice it to say, the composer secures admirably disciplined and committed results from all involved.



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