Nightshade (1987)
Corpus cum Figuris (1985)

Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins
Given the part-retrospective aspect of the current “Music of Today” season, James MacMillan’s last as Artistic Director, two “startling” pieces by Poul Ruders were aired once again.
The description is MacMillan’s who was in conversation with the composer at the start of the programme. Ruders remarked that it is “easy to be eccentric but hard to be original,” and hopes that his music leaves a “strong emotional impression.”
It does in the sense that I recall Corpus cum Figuris vividly from seven or eight years ago, and this occasion was no less engrossing. Nightshade’s flurry of nocturnal activity and extremes of sonority – a failed attempt to break free from claustrophobic darkness – held the attention, the shadow-play of contra-bass clarinet and contrabassoon a particular feature, was overshadowed by the twice-as-long (20 minutes) earlier piece scored for twenty players.
Corpus begins with two violas suggesting something from afar, the experiences of a previous life; it is a funeral march and the suggestion of a coffin carried aloft is vivid. Tubular bells sound the alarm as repetitive rhythmic patterns and hard timbres inveigle the solemnity. There follows a carefully modulated emotional wind-down; against this, melodic intertwining suggests an altitude higher than before. [Corpus cum Figuris is available on BIS-CD-720.]
With splendid performances, this well-attended concert was a timely reminder of Ruders’s sense of drama.
  • James MacMillan’s final MOT is devoted to his own Búsqueda – 30 June, RFH at 6 o’clock, free admission, no ticket required


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