James MacMillan, conductor and composer
MacMillan opened the second symphony, a dark-horse favorite of mine, with a brash first movement, emphasis definitely on the brio of the fast section, even speeding up the tempo at the opening of the development. The long second movement also proceeded at a good clip, a Larghetto approaching Andante, but suffered from a limited dynamic range at the soft end. The rollicking tempo preferences impacted the third movement the most, as the orchestra struggled to keep the B section clean at that demanding pace. Only in the final movement (Allegro molto) did MacMillan's haste seem appropriate, although even there the running notes of the main subject were cluttered at times, leaving little room for the coda in terms of speed. The BSO mostly rose to the challenge, with furious and technically thrilling playing.
Tim Smith, Musical evening is Second to none (Baltimore Sun, April 5)
Mark J. Estren, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Washington Post, April 5)
T. L. Ponick, Affecting MacMillan thrills (Washington Times, April 5)
Less successful was MacMillan's second piano concerto, a score that was actually created not for the concert hall but for the New York City Ballet. Without the corresponding visual diversion, the musical ideas held attention for only about two-thirds of the work's duration. Again there were jigs and other Gaelic tunes, both clumsy and elegant, as well as quotations from older music, hallucinatory bits from the heroine's mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor. British pianist Rolf Hind was more than equal to the technical challenges, the romping flat-handed clusters and even the drum-like pounding on the body of the Steinway. It was a set of fascinating noises that could have benefited from a few more clarifying edits.
Compare James MacMillan's piano concerto with John Corigliano's piano concerto next week, when Marin Alsop conducts the Eroica symphony and two works by Corigliano (April 17 to 19). The composer will speak on the Composers in Conversation series next Wednesday (April 16, 7:30 pm).