Another “Recommended” distinction from a MusicWeb International Critic for Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Brahms & MacMillan release, and this time the spotlight shines on James MacMillan!
“I really have to doff my hat to Reference Recordings, as well as to Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, for their commitment to programming and recording new music is genuinely admirable. … I have come across the music of MacMillan more than once in the past, both in the concert hall and on disc… I was hugely taken by this new work, a Larghetto for Orchestra, premiered in 2017 to honour the tenth anniversary of Manfred Honeck’s tenure as Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony. This is in fact an orchestrated version of an earlier work by the composer, a choral-only setting of the Miserere written in 2009, and readers who are familiar with the stark and simple beauty of the original will be fascinated by its transformation to a piece for full orchestra, with its more dazzling colours and majestic vistas. … the music is accessible, tonal, although undeniably ‘modern’ and Honeck’s conducting of it is masterful, pacing the music like one huge arch of a gothic cathedral, with the end always in sight. The final climax is resplendent, almost transcendental, yet is intensely moving as Honeck, miraculously, is still able to give the impression of restraint which then allows the music to die away magically into silence. He is aided immeasurably here by the composer too, who has the climax played without any percussion, but does have the timpanist softly rumbling on the final note of all as the music dies away. In lesser hands, there were moments where the music could perhaps be accused of meandering slightly, but the sheer concentration and eloquence of the marvellous Pittsburgh players ensures that the performance elevates the piece to that of a minor masterpiece. Ironically, this disc arrived too late to make my Record of the Year for 2021, but with this one 14-minute piece of music alone, it has without a doubt earned its place as one of my nominations for 2022 and is hugely recommended to anyone who enjoys the music of Sibelius and Bruckner, as well as MacMillan and Brahms. I simply cannot imagine the piece done better by either performers or recording engineers.—Lee Denham, MusicWeb International