JAMES MACMILLAN (b.1959): Organ Works - Kenga e Krushqve*, Gaudeamus in loci pace, St Andrews’ Suite, Offertorium, Le Tombeau de Georges Rouault, White Note Paraphrase, Meditation*, Wedding Introit, Toccata*. * - First Recordings.
Catalogue Number: 10W059
Label: Resonus Classics
Description: MacMillan's output for solo organ is (so far) not extensive, but it is as inventive, varied and approachable as the rest of his œuvre. He wrote Kenga e Krushqve for his son’s wedding in 2018. In honor of the Albanian bride's family, the jubilant dance-piece is based on a well-known Albanian folksong, with a distinctive modal contour and an insistent and irresistible rhythm. Gaudeamus in loci pace was written in 1998 to celebrate the golden jubilee of the re-foundation of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. It presents a slow, solemn plainchant against which quasi-Messiaenic birdsong is increasingly present in the highest register, bringing together the serene calm of the place of worship and God’s chorus in the world of nature. The brief but powerful St Andrews Suite was written for the 600th anniversary of the founding of the august Scottish institution, and comprises three short movements suitable for use as voluntaries at university events. The first is a vigorous toccata whose cascades of pungent chords over pedal points are reminiscent of Messiaen's Dieu parmi nous. The second is meditative, with an ornamented melodic line that sounds like a very free transcription of an early folksong, and the third begins in Bachian rigor and modern harmonies, and ends as a French toccata à la Messiaen. Three occasional pieces for weddings in the 1980s and 1994 are included here: Offertorium, stately, modal and ornamented like folksong or bagpipe music; White Note Paraphrase, compounded of plainchant and folksong, and quoting the love duet from MacMillan’s opera Inés de Castro; and the gentle, beautiful Wedding Introit, based on an Irish folksong, which the composer wrote for his own wedding. Meditation draws on MacMillan's motet Qui meditabitur (‘He who meditates’), presented as a cantus firmus decorated with chiming ornamentation like the birdsong in Gaudeamus, then rising to a powerful climax. Toccata is more than a display of virtuosity, though it contains virtuosity aplenty in its eventful eight minutes. The work playfully combines an imposing hymn tune, dance episodes, "circus" music borrowed from Le Tombeau, an unexpectedly gentle interlude, and plenty of spicy bitonality, amongst the customary cascading chords and rapid passagework. Georges Rouault (1871–1958) painted the lower echelons of society as a carnival of grotesques - but also, repeatedly, exalted themes of Christ's Passion, all in a bold style with heavy outlines around the figures that resembled stained glass. Le Tombeau de Georges Rouault is MacMillan's response to Rouault's "dark, subtle and moving ... observation of the frailty of human life", and is his largest and most ambitious organ work to date. It begins with a "pure" monodic melody, soon interrupted by the music of clowns and the circus, and joined by imposing gestures in the pedals. An episode reminiscent of Bach chorales is added, and these elements vie for supremacy with mounting momentum and massiveness before being cut off by a huge sliding cluster that brings in a new, vulgar "barrel organ" scherzo. This collapses, and the "chorale prelude" and opening monody return, finally ending the work in what can only be a monumental depiction of the cataclysm and triumph of the Crucifixion. Stephen Farr (organ of St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh).