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,
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
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.