MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross

MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross

by Polyphony
     
 
Inspired by his Catholic faith, James MacMillan often composes intense works on religious themes. Yet unlike his older contemporaries, Sir John Tavener and Arvo Pärt, whose calm meditations and ecstatic paeans reflect their composers' certitude in Christian redemption, MacMillan frequently considers darker subjects and creates a dramatic tension in his music between

Overview

Inspired by his Catholic faith, James MacMillan often composes intense works on religious themes. Yet unlike his older contemporaries, Sir John Tavener and Arvo Pärt, whose calm meditations and ecstatic paeans reflect their composers' certitude in Christian redemption, MacMillan frequently considers darker subjects and creates a dramatic tension in his music between expressions of suffering and salvation. His setting for choir and string orchestra of the "Seven Last Words from the Cross" (1993) is the harshest and most disturbing composition on this 2005 Hyperion release, and the severe portrayal of Jesus' agony is much stronger than the pathos that is usually emphasized in such Good Friday services. Stark polytonality, dissonant counterpoint, dense clusters, and abrasive effects in the strings contribute to the vivid depiction of the Passion; and the choral writing is often tightly chromatic and harmonically unstable, at times in direct conflict with passages of straightforward tonality and open consonance, perhaps to convey MacMillan's doubts in the midst of belief. Such an ambiguous tone is appropriate for this work, which reaches its nadir in the fourth section, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" But even in works of praise, such as "On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin" (1997) and the "Te Deum" (2001), MacMillan communicates his problematic theology through dark sonorities, mysterious dissonances, and haunting, floating counterpoint, and his modern but strangely Gothic vision offers little of what might be understood as consolation or glorification. The polished performances by Polyphony, the Britten Sinfonia, and organist James Vivian, under the direction of Stephen Layton, are effective and moving. Listeners should take care with the volume setting, since this recording has an extremely wide dynamic range.

Editorial Reviews

Classic FM Magazine - Andrew Stewart
An emotionally charged counterblast to those who glibly label MacMillan as ‘Holy Minimalist’.

Product Details

Release Date:
09/13/2005
Label:
Hyperion Uk
UPC:
0034571174600
catalogNumber:
67460

Tracks

  1. Seven Last Words from the Cross, cantata for choir and string orchestra  - James MacMillan  -  Britten Sinfonia  - Stephen Layton  - Pauline Lowbury  - Simon Perry  -  Polyphony  - Terry Shannon
  2. On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin  - James MacMillan  - Stephen Layton  - Simon Perry  -  Polyphony  - Terry Shannon  - Bishop Jeremy Taylor  - James Vivian
  3. Te Deum  - James MacMillan  - Stephen Layton  - Simon Perry  -  Polyphony  - Terry Shannon  - James Vivian

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