Ursa Minor: Chamber Music by Stuart MacRae

This compelling survey of music by the Scottish composer Stuart MacRae – a fifth instalment in the acclaimed Hebrides Ensemble/Delphian Records series of composer portraits – focuses on works of the last decade while also reaching back to include two pieces from the composer’s mid-twenties.

Reflecting diverse inspirations from nature and myth, it also reveals underlying continuities: a preoccupation, in particular, with questions of scale and perspective. The ancient Greek hero Prometheus receives an unexpectedly intimate portrait, his human aspects to the fore – flawed yet sympathetic. MacRae’s perception of the natural world, meanwhile, extends from the microscopic scale of lichen to the vastness of the night sky, in which the medium of distance transmutes all turmoil into calm.

'The timing of this selective survey of Stuart MacRae’s chamber music by the Hebrides Ensemble is instructive. Something happened to the now 46-year-old composer’s music over the past decade, coinciding with his fruitful ventures into opera, that witnessed a perceptible shift in style from exploratory introspection to emotive insight and confident linguistic maturity. There’s a sense of that distinction here, in examples stretching from the gestural simplicity of Tol-Pedn of 1999, in which MacRae himself plays percussion, to the effervescent wonderment of Ursa Minor, written for this recording and inspired by nighttime walks during lockdown. Rich, responsive performances do full justice to these and other works. The improvisatory musings of two solo piano works played by James Willshire are both wistful and unpretentious, while there’s a powerful, operatic charge to I Am Prometheus and Parable, featuring tenor Joshua Elliott and baritone Marcus Farnsworth respectively'

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

'This beautifully performed composer portrait from the Hebrides Ensemble captures Stuart MacRae at his most searching. Whether inspired by the tiniest lichen or loftiest constellation, or by human frailty couched in myth, a fascination with scale and perspective permeates the musical fabric – and, in the vocal works, the textual one ...and a richly imaginative scoring which extends throughout, embracing tonality and microtones, swirling dissonance and static repose ... Dark Liquidand Diversion (The room behind the room behind the room) are spontaneous responses to the lockdown nocturnally explored in the haunting Ursa Minor (2020)'

Release Date: 25 March 2022
Catalogue No: DCD34258
Total playing time: 1:16:46
Recorded on 12-14 August 2021
in The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Producer/Engineer: Paul Baxter
24-bit digital editing: James Waterhouse
24-bit digital mastering: Paul Baxter
Piano: Steinway model D, serial no 599478 (2015) Piano technician: Norman Motion
Design: Drew Padrutt
Booklet editor: John Fallas
Session photography: foxbrushfilms.com Cover image: Boreal constellation of Ursa Minor, engraving from Johann Hevelius (1611–1687), Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uronographia (Gdansk, 1690) / Photo © NPL – DeA Picture Library / Bridgeman

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1. I Am Prometheus

Album Booklet

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