There has been a flurry of performance and recordings of Macmillan's
music in this, the year of his 50th
offering from Naxos - at the usual budget price - is from the
talented young Dmitri Ensemble under their composer/conductor-director
Graham Ross and includes two world premiere recordings. This
recording is warmly commended by the composer himself and is
a sheer pleasure to listen to.
In the sound-world of this disc, there is a slight echo of the
very enjoyable disc of modern choral music by Giles Swayne which
year. This is less of a surprise when one sees that both discs
were recorded in the same venue - All Hallows church in London's
Gospel Oak - and produced by the same engineer, John Rutter,
himself a distinguished composer of modern choral religious music.
Although many of Macmillan's works are directly related to his
devout Catholic faith, Seven Last Words
was first shown
on BBC television during Holy Week and is perhaps one of his
most frequently performed and best known works. It sets texts
from all four of the Gospels to build a composite presentation
of the last seven sentences uttered by Jesus. It draws musically
on Macmillan's own work Tuireadh
- lament, and on Scottish
traditional lament music as well as making occasional reference
to Bach's Passion chorales.
This powerful work could be expected to be hard to follow. Adding
further accompanying works might seem brave. However, the one
thematic step which enables this sequence to work is the decision
to adopt the theme of resurrection. Christus Vincit
a setting of the twelfth century Worcester Acclamations. Its
plainsong-like phrases are punctuated by silence.
Nemo te condemnavit
, which follows, is the most recent
work on the disc. It is contented, reassuring and positive and
is in a capella
style - points of similarity with the
Swayne choral disc. Taking the theme of forgiveness as expressed
in the parable of the woman caught in adultery, it is one of
a series of new works for post-communion reflection.
The final work is another motet, ... here in hiding ...
It incorporates the Gregorian hymn Adoro te devote
intercuts the original Latin of St Thomas Aquinas with an English
translation by the poet-monk Gerard Manley Hopkins. It has been
recorded previously by the Hilliard Ensemble in a version for
four solo voices. The present edition is the world premiere recording
of the version for ATTB chorus a capella
Seven Last Words
has previously been recorded on Hyperion
by Polyphony under Stephen Layton. It received superlative
and was a Recording of the Year
in 2005. The
Naxos disc is a budget version by a newer ensemble. The Hyperion,
although more generous in its pairing, is perhaps less satisfactory
in its programming. Serious enthusiasts will want both. Those
who choose the cheaper Naxos recording will be getting a very
enjoyable disc and one which compares very favourably with its
Notwithstanding its inexpensive price, recording, production,
singing and playing are excellent. The disc is attractively presented
with informative notes by the composer, full lyrics and a cover
featuring a painting on the same theme by Graham Sutherland.
The Sixteen have also paid tribute to Macmillan, bringing out
with impressive speed a recording linked to their anniversary-studded
Thirtieth Choral Pilgrimage. Recorded only in late February 2009, Bright
Orb of Harmony
, on the choir's own CORO label (COR16069)
came out on 30 March 2009. It’s a disc combining music
by two of the three composers whose anniversaries are featured
in their tour this year: Purcell, the three hundred and fiftieth
anniversary of whose birth (1659) is this year, and James Macmillan
who celebrates his fiftieth birthday on 16 July 2009.
James Macmillan's fiftieth year is marked by international acclaim.
Scots percussionist Colin Currie performs the concerto Veni,
in Finland and the St John Passion
its German premiere in Berlin, this time with staged choreography.
Further performances follow in Amsterdam with the Royal Concertgebouw
Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis. Closer to home for British readers,
in London the Britten Sinfonia mounts the first fully-staged
presentation of his concert piece Parthenogenesis
Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio Theatre.
Perhaps the most impressive half century birthday tribute, has
been in Manchester. There Macmillan has a long history, having
studied and taught at the University of Manchester before returning
to live in his native Glasgow. The Royal Northern College of
Music paid early respects with a three-day festival entitled Raising
Sparks: The Music of James MacMillan
(28-30 April) a title also
used in an earlier Macmillan retrospective at London's South
A birthday salute is also scheduled at the BBC Proms, where the
main work of this disc, the Seven Last Words from the Cross
paired with Haydn's work of the same title in a performance by
the BBC Singers and the Manchester Camerata on 20 July 2009.
Macmillan is also one of the composers featured in a series on 100
years of British Music
on Radio Three's Afternoon on Three
week (w/c 22 June 2009) (also available as audio on demand),
with The World's Ransoming, The Seven Last Words,
) being broadcast in this mini-series.
Sections of Seven Last Words
forgive them, for they know not what they do
behold thy Son! ….Behold Thy Mother
I say to you, today thou shalt be with me in Paradise
Eli lama sabachtani?
Father into Thy hands I commend my Spirit