With music that combines rhythmic excitement, raw emotional power and spiritual meditation, James MacMillan (b. 1959) has rapidly established himself as a leading international composer. On BIS, seven previous releases feature instrumental works by him, and now the time has come for the first disc with scores involving voices. MacMillan is unusual among mainstream contemporary composers in that his output includes a high proportion of choral works, from music to be used in weekly church services to virtuoso writing for soloistic multi-voiced choirs. On the present disc are two world première recordings: the 45-minute Visitatio Sepulchri for chorus and chamber orchestra (a recording of the version for solo voices already exists) and the 23-minute a cappella Sun-Dogs. As with so much of MacMillan’s production, both works reflect the composer’s deep involvement with matters of religious – and more specifically Roman Catholic – faith. The longer work is a setting of a medieval liturgical drama which describes the scene from the New Testament where three women go to visit the Holy Sepulchre on the day after Christ’s crucifixion, and learn that he has risen from the dead. Sun-Dogs instead uses a contemporary text, by the poet Michael Symmons Roberts, which in MacMillan’s own words is: ‘richly allegorical, evoking a range of emotions and images, dark and terrifying one minute, radiant and ecstatic the next.’ In both works the composer allows a number of diverse musical influences to surface: those of composers such as the mystic Olivier Messiaen and the expressionistic Harrison Birtwistle, of Gaelic psalm-singing typical of the Hebrides and of Tibetan Buddhist chanting. The scores also include various techniques such as deep breathing, whistling and stage-whispered, toneless chanting. Performing these exciting works are the singers of the eminent Netherlands Radio Choir, one of the largest and most versatile professional choirs in the world, conducted by its current chief conductor, Celso Antunes (in Sun-Dogs) and by the composer himself (in Visitatio).
Extra material for download