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James MacMILLAN (b. 1959)
‘O’ Advent antiphon for 3-part treble choir, trumpet and strings (2008) [8:48]
Tryst for orchestra (1989) [25:59]
Magnificat for choir and orchestra (1999) [14:07]
Nunc Dimittis for choir and orchestra (2001) [7:15]
Netherlands Radio Choir/Edward Caswell
Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic/James MacMillan
rec. 15-16 June 2011, Netherlands Broadcasting Music Centre, Hilversum, Netherlands
Full sung texts not included
MacMillan series vol. 2
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72554 [56:10]

Volume 1 in the MacMillan series on Challenge Classics comprising ‘A Deep But Dazzling Darkness’ for solo violin, ensemble and tape, ‘Í’ (A Meditation on Iona) for strings and percussion and ‘Veni, Veni Emmanuel’ a concerto for percussion and orchestra was well received. Following close on its heels this vol. 2 consists of four works, three of which include a choir, a survey that could be said to be an expression of the composer’s devout Roman Catholic faith which is a continually occurring component in his compositions.
 
Here MacMillan continues to conduct the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic becoming their guest conductor in 2010. 

The opening work is the première recording is the advent antiphon ‘O’ for 3-part treble choir, trumpet and strings a BBC commission from 2008 for the first ‘Choral Evensong’ of the new Millennium at Wells Cathedral. The score an adaptation of an existing work, sets an English text ‘O Radiant Dawn’ used at Vespers in the season of Advent specifically for 21 December. Almost immediately the women’s voices and the strings create a compellingly cool and shadowy atmosphere while the plaintive trumpet part invokes a sense of stark beauty.
 
From 1989 Tryst for orchestra, lasting over twenty-five minutes, was a commission by the St. Magnus Festival in Orkney for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Some years ago MacMillan set a love poem by William Soutar titled The Tryst to a simple melody. It was done in the manner of an old Scots ballad, an approach he has employed in several of his works. Cast in a single movement in five sections Tryst is weighty and rather thorny and almost dares the listener to like it. Fascinating are the absorbing layers of sound that in the main feel decidedly dramatic. The section built on driving rhythms is especially effective.
 
The final two works are evening canticles scored for choir and orchestra. First comes the Magnificat which is the Virgin Mary’s hymn of praise to the Lord. Scored for choir and orchestra, it is a BBC commission from 1999 for a Millennium broadcast from Wells Cathedral. With its eerie, rather mysterious opening the Magnificat strongly conveys a sense of an extreme expanse. It’s like a journey under a starlit winter sky. From 10:59 there are six rapid outbursts for brass - thunderous and snarling. The second work is the Nunc Dimittis - the opening words of Simeon’s hymn of praise for the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is a Westminster Cathedral commission from 2001. Sharing some music from the Magnificat the often exultant Nunc Dimittis is intensely reverential and the percussion play a crucial role.

James MacMillan’s conducting provides textural and structural clarity while the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic respond with style. Clearly the Netherlands Radio Choir has been impeccably prepared by their chorus master Edward Caswell. The sing with a splendid stream of tone and an appropriate amount of reverential expression.
 
MacMillan’s music may initially seem heavy and tough to penetrate but this excellently performed second volume is approachable, with a reasonable amount of concentration, and will certainly bring rewards.  

Michael Cookson

Experience Classicsonline