MacRae, a fiery composer, is thirty this year: a good time for a retrospective CD dominated by Christian Tetzlaff’s performance of a Violin Concerto with melodic and emotional strength. Two smaller pieces offer speedier pleasures: Motus (virtuoso playing from the BCMG) and the exciting orchestral Stirling Choruses. The Count Ugolino scenes make grim listening; but pin no blame for that on the thrilling mezzo Loré Lixenberg.
Geoff Brown, The Times, 8/18/2006
The Violin Concerto, commissioned for the BBC Proms, remains one of Stuart MacRae's strongest works to date. Now it's on disc, played effervescently by Christian Tetzlaff and the BBC SSO under Ilan Volkov.Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman, 8/25/2006
Coinciding with the Edinburgh Festival’s launch of MacRae’s opera The Assassin Tree is this sampling of the impressive oeuvre he has built up. The Violin Concerto is an ambitious four-movement work […] MacRae is a sterling composer in every way.Hugh Canning, Sunday Times, 8/28/2006
The premiere of Stuart MacRae’s Violin Concerto at the 2001 Proms cemented his reputation and transformed him at the age of 25 from a hugely promising talent into a composer of real stature and maturity. Christian Tetzlaff is one of a number of violinists to have taken the Concerto into their repertory, and his performance on this disc is dazzling. He takes every technical challenge in his stride, and perfectly articulates both the fragile, constantly changing relationship between the soloist and the orchestra and MacRae’s intriguing four-movement plan which reverses concerto convention and sites its emotional centre of gravity in the fiercely eloquent finale. If nothing else on this disc has quite the cumulative power of the Concerto, all three other pieces share its formal lucidity and capacity for vivid musical image-making. Andrew Clements, BBC Music Magazine, 9/1/2006
Stuart MacRae’s first opera, The Assassin Tree, opened in Edinburgh a week ago, and presumably the release of this first disc to be devoted to his music was timed to coincide with that premiere. While the main piece here is Christian Tetzlaff’s performance of the impressive Violin Concerto that MacRae composed for the Proms in 2001 – a three-movement structure that turns conventional expectations on their head by loading most of the work’s musical and emotional weight into the finale…It’s all hugely accomplished. Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 9/1/2006
It’s good to have these recordings of Stuart MacRae’s music generally available. MacRae has the ability to take the listener into a fantastical world, one enriched with a musical syntax that rewards both the intellect and the senses. The four pieces here date from between 1999 to 2004.
Inverness-born, in 1976, MacRae completed his Violin Concerto to a commission for the BBC Proms in 2001. It’s an impressive creation. The first movement is chilly and eerie and also ravishing, the solo part athletic and lyrical, owing something, maybe, to Berg’s Violin Concerto, and with orchestral writing both precise and allusive. The violin seems to hover above the orchestra, sometimes flying solo and sometimes perching and associating with the intriguing web of sound that MacRae has conjured.
Written in memory of Xenakis, who died while the Violin Concerto was being composed, the second movement is an elegy that is both eloquent and has sonorous climaxes; a sense of ritual is enacted. The scherzo deals with clockwork mechanisms, the orchestra and the violin (in that order) knitting together. The longest movement is the slow finale, the violin’s expressiveness, outlined earlier in the work, is now fully developed.
MacRae’s Violin Concerto is a notable work, one that exists on numerous levels, and receives here a first-class performance, with Christian Tetzlaff the distinguished soloist, and in a recording that is vivid and well-balanced.
Stirling Choruses is from the same performing stable, as it were, this time without Tetzlaff, a work for brass instruments specifically inspired by Stirling Castle – both as the venue for the first performance and animated by the Castle’s place in Scotland’s history and landscape. Stirling Choruses is short (just under 8 minutes), pithy and virtuoso; searing and strident, rich and snaking, a solo trumpet standing out from two defined groups of brass: horns and tuba, and trumpets and trombones. Dedicated to Martyn Brabbins, Ilan Volkov here secures playing of dexterity and fullness to bring this music to life.
The longest single movement here is Motus, near on 18 minutes in this performance. Motus (‘movement’ or ‘procession’) parades each of the six instruments – violin, cello, clarinet, oboe, piano and harp – as soloists and as an ensemble of equality; cadenzas for each and what might be described as ‘overlapping solos’. Motus holds a fascinating balance between individuality and teamwork.
The opening of “Two Scenes from the Death of Count Ugolino” begins with a trumpet solo and reminds, momentarily, and no doubt totally coincidentally, of the opening of Franz Schmidt’s Symphony No.4. Once again MacRae’s dramatic instincts are to the fore, so too his keen ear for colour and timbre. Dante’s “Inferno” is the inspiration, from the tenth circle of Hell, the image of Count Ugolino “with his jaws planted in the back of the head of … Archbishop Roger” (MacRae), and, then, the recounting of how Ugolino and his sons were starved to death by Archbishop Roger.
Maybe NMC would now like to consider recording MacRae’s opera, “The Assassin Tree”.
Colin Anderson, , 10/1/2006
For all its formal and technical complexity, McRae’s music retains a remarkable expressive strength that never fails to communicate directly. Though clearly of its time and place, it nevertheless remains firmly rooted in tradition. Judging from these pieces McRae is now no longer just a promising young composer; here is a musician who has things to say and who knows how to say them best. One of the most striking characteristics is that the music unfolds logically and is clearly as to its destination. “If there is one thing that unites these pieces... it is that they all feel like journeys of a sort”. I cannot but fully agree with these words by the composer. I now know that he is a composer whose progress I will watch with interest.
Hubert Culot, Music Web International, 10/6/2006
'Certainly a disk devoted to Stuart MacRae is timely, as the 30-year old composer has built a considerable reputation. As the composer remarks in his booklet-note, all four pieces (written between 1999 and 2004) outline a journey. Abstractly, in the Birtwistkle-like division of brass in the hieratic 'Stirling Choruses' and the vividly soloistic sextet of 'Motus', whose progress from the fractured and discursive to the sustained and cumulative recalls that of the fine trumpet concerto 'Interact'...The Violin Concerto is the most impressive work here: a successful formal recasting of the genre with the emotional emphasis on its finale, a striking amalgam of cadenza and apotheosis that handles the orchestra with considerable finesse...' Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone, 11/1/2006
[On the four-movement Violin Concerto.] Macrae is evidently a composer who's not afraid to take risks with form, eschewing the traditional concerto model by situating the work's emotional and structural centre in the concluding fourth movement-it's a bold ploy that works well, especially in such a cogent performance as Tetzlaff's. Two Scenes from the Death of Count Ugolino...this is strong stuff indeed. Motus, a processional for mixed sextet of violin, cello, clarinet, oboe, piano and harp, bristles with textural interest.Peter Quinn, International Record Review, 4/1/2007