MacMillan: Miserere / Christophers, The Sixteen

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MacMILLAN MISERERE. Strathclyde Motets: Data est mihi omnis potestas; Dominus dabit benignitatem; Factus est repente; O Radiant Dawn; Videns Dominus; Lux aeterna; In splendoribus sanctorum;...

MacMILLAN MISERERE. Strathclyde Motets: Data est mihi omnis potestas; Dominus dabit benignitatem; Factus est repente; O Radiant Dawn; Videns Dominus; Lux aeterna; In splendoribus sanctorum; 1 Bendicimus Deum caeli . O bone Jesu. Tenebrae Responsories Harry Christophers, cond; The Sixteen; 1 Robert Farley (tpt) CORO 16096 (79:39)

MacMILLAN And Lo, the Angel of the Lord. Strathclyde Motets: Qui meditabitur; O Radiant Dawn; Lux aeterna; Os mutorum; The Canticle of Zechariah; Pascha nostrum immolatus est; Benedicimus Deum caeli. Bring Us, O Lord. Benedictus Deus. Advent Antiphon. Think of How God Loves You. Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman. Tota pulchra es. Who Are These Angels? 1 Alan Tavener, cond; Cappella Nova; 1 Edinburgh Qrt LINN CKD 301 (70:00)

Scottish composer James MacMillan (b.1959) has written music for all levels of choirs throughout his career, but since 2004 he has produced a particularly large number of works specifically “designed for a good, amateur church or cathedral choir, or amateur secular choir.” Of course, this refers to an “amateur” choir by British standards. Due to the vastly different choral standards, most of these works would hardly prove easy for a typical American chorus. MacMillan has grouped many of these pieces under the heading Strathclyde Motets , so named because many were written for the choral ensembles at Strathclyde University, under the direction of Alan Tavener. A lifelong devout Roman Catholic, MacMillan was asked in 2005 to accept a post as music director for a small Dominican parish near Glasgow. No doubt his weekly work as a church choir director inspired him to compose a number of these liturgical pieces.

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen need little introduction to fans of early music. However, their devoting an entire disc to music of a living composer is unprecedented, and it comes from Christophers’s belief in MacMillan’s greatness: “In 2001, for the first time in our history, The Sixteen commissioned a new liturgical work; it had always been my intention to do this, but I was intent on ensuring that it would be a composition that survived the test of time. The result was O bone Jesu , and I have no doubt that in this work by James MacMillan we have found that lasting voice.”

I have written before on numerous occasions that I, too, believe MacMillan to be one of the most compelling voices of our time, with a personal musical language that draws deep on a rich musical past to forge an intensely expressive musical present. Though his dazzling orchestral scores have won him great acclaim, what he achieves in these sacred choral works (most intended for liturgical performance) is no less great, and I believe places him in a truly select company of the absolute finest composers in the entire history of the art form.

These two superb choral releases collect most all of MacMillan’s shorter choral offerings from the last decade. There are so many gems here that it’s hard to know where to begin in describing them. Both discs focus on a sampling of motets from the 15 that make up the Strathclyde cycle. (Neither disc presents the cycle complete, nor is every motet covered even between the two discs.) The other items range from the absolutely stunning large-scale Miserere (2009) to the ebullient and unexpectedly dance-like Tota pulchra es, from the simple and heartbreakingly beautiful Think of How God Loves You to the congregational Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman (2010), written for the papal visit to the United Kingdom and the Mass celebrating Newman’s beatification. The most popular of these pieces (though many are quite new) is the glorious O Radiant Dawn (one of the only Strathclyde Motets in English), which has already been taken up by a number of American choirs.

Though several of the Strathclyde Motets overlap between the two discs, that is hardly a reason not to acquire them both. Both discs are excellently performed, though it will not be a huge surprise that The Sixteen have a slight edge, producing the terrific performances for which they have long been known.

FANFARE: Carson Cooman

Product Description:

  • Release Date: October 31, 2011

  • UPC: 828021609626

  • Catalog Number: COR16096

  • Label: CORO

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: James MacMillan

  • Conductor: Harry Christophers

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: The Sixteen

  • Performer: Cecilia Osmond, Eamonn Dougan, Elin Manahan Thomas, Mark Dobell, Rebecca Outram, Robert Evans