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James MacMillan (b.1959)

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MacMillan: Cello Concerto & The World's Ransoming

MacMillan: Cello Concerto & The World's Ransoming


MacMillan:

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra

Raphael Wallfisch (cello)

The World's Ransoming. A Concertante work for cor anglais and orchestra

Christine Pendrill (cor anglais)


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MacMillan: Choral Music

MacMillan: Choral Music


MacMillan:

Jubilate Deo

First recording

Serenity

First recording

Magnificat & Nunc dimittis

First recording in this version

Tremunt vindentes angeli

When Love beckons to you, follow him

William de Chazal (treble) & Jonathan Vaughn (organ)

... here in hiding ...

Simon Clulow (countertenor), Mark Hounsell (tenor), Dominic Bland (tenor) & Christopher Sheldrake (bass)

Give Me Justice

The Lamb has come for us from the house of David

Le tombeau de Georges Rouault

First recording

Jonathan Vaughn (organ)


James MacMillan is renowned for his highly original yet accessible choral music. His prolific output displays an intrinsic understanding of the human voice and his music will undoubtedly stand the test of time. MacMillan’s work is inseparable from its composer’s committed adherence to Roman Catholicism. A sense of this religious belief imbues much of his work, which seeks to combine the sacred with the everyday.

This disc highlights the astonishing variety prevalent in his music, from the powerful and stylistically complex Magnificat and Nunc dimittis to the beautiful and intimate On Love composed in Macmillan’s student days for the wedding of close friends.

Wells Cathedral Choir is in fine voice and they tackle the more challenging works with aplomb and conviction. With their sensitive interpretations and luminous sound it is easy to see why they have been labelled England’s finest cathedral choir.

The closing work on the disc is a hugely demanding work for solo organ, Le tombeau de Georges Rouault, one of only five works for the instrument written by the composer. Organist Jonathan Vaughn gives a masterly performance of this highly virtuosic and elaborate work.

“Vaughn displays breathtaking virtuosity in Le tombeau...That's not all...he is called upon to add not mere accompaniments but truly virtuosic partnerships with the choir...The choir is, in a word, magnificent. Singing with impressive self-assurance and clearly revelling in Macmillan's uncanny ability to make everything sound perfectly natural even when the technical skills involved are extraordinarily demanding.” International Record Review, July 2011

“This disc is a double triumph for Wells. Not only does it maintain the world-class standard of their recent recordings, it also secures beyond doubt for them a reputation as the must-have interpreters of contemporary British sacred repertoire...If you only ever buy one disc of MacMillan's choral works, then make it this one. In terms of both choral performance, and in displaying MacMillan's tremendous stylistic range, it can't be beaten.” Classic FM Magazine, August 2011 *****

“The Choir of Wells Cathedral lives up its reputation as Britain's best cathedral choir...the Wells sound, recorded with appropriate spaciousness but without excessive resonance, easily rises above occasional suggestions of Anglican gentility.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2011

“MacMillan's vocal writing can be dazzlingly virtuosic...Yet his shorter, simpler pieces are equally engaged with spirituality. The Wells singing is of a consistently high standard (MacMillan's trademark use of melisma is particularly well assimilated), and organist Jonathan Vaughn delivers a scintillating account of Le tombeau de George Rouault” BBC Music Magazine, October 2011 ****

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MacMillan: Clemency

MacMillan: Clemency

A Chamber Opera for five singers and string orchestra. Libretto: Michael Symmons Roberts


Christine Abraham (soprano), Michelle Trainor (soprano), Samuel Levine (tenor), Neal Ferreira (tenor), David Kravitz (baritone), David McFerrin (baritone) & Brett Hodgdon (piano)

Boston Lyric Opera Orchestra, David Angus

Clemency is the third operatic collaboration between the composer James MacMillan and the poet Michael Symmons Roberts. It explores a central but enigmatic episode in the Old Testament: when Abraham and Sarah are visited by three mysterious strangers…

Clemency was commissioned by Boston Lyric Opera, together with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Scottish Opera and Britten Sinfonia.

“Abraham is the firm, authoritative baritone David Kravitz, who grows in vocal stature as the action progresses...Christine Abraham's Sarah is strongly committed, though there's a certain straining for high notes...Clemency is scored for strings only, and conductor David Angus ekes plenty of trenchant detail from his Boston players.” BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2014 ****

“The wizardry familiar from many of MacMillan's works is much in evidence as the strangers inform the couple of the impending birth of Sarah's son...The Boston Lyric Opera string section plays with considerable virtuosity under Angus's firm direction. The recording, taken from three live performances, is excellent.” International Record Review, December 2014

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MacMillan: Mass and other sacred music

MacMillan: Mass and other sacred music


MacMillan:

A New Song

Mass

Christus vincit

Gaudeamus in loci pace

(organ solo)

Seinte Mari moder milde

A Child's Prayer

Changed


Andrew Reid (organ)

Westminster Cathedral Choir, Martin Baker (Master of Music)

“MacMillan's choral music is more often than not a direct response to his own Christian faith. The Mass recorded here was commissioned by Westminster Cathedral for the 'Glory of God in the Millennium Year of the Jubilee' and unlike MacMillan's two previous Masses, which were composed for congregational use, was specifically written for performance by a professional choir. It's through-composed and this provides a sense of structure, continuity and flow that greatly enhances its accessibility when heard out of context – on disc rather than celebrated. That MacMillan intended the Mass for practical use is apparent by his choice of vernacular rather than the Latin text. His often eclectic style is very much in evidence; the score glimmers with echoes of Howells and Duruflé, especially in the Kyrie and in his often quasi-orchestral organ writing, but in general it's MacMillan's individual voice that shapes this impressive and deeply felt setting. The Gloria contains some particularly effective music, not least some marvellously atmospheric organ writing, and the crepuscular Agnus Dei lingers in the mind long after the final notes die away. Of the remaining works on the disc, A New Song and A Child's Prayer (dedicated to the victims of the Dunblane tragedy) stand out as particularly fine examples of MacMillan's choral writing. As a bonus we're treated to the wonderfully translucent organ solo Gaudeamus in loci pace, beautifully performed by Andrew Reid. Performances throughout are exceptionally fine, the recorded sound radiantly atmospheric. A must.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - June 2001

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MacMillan: Miserere

MacMillan: Miserere


MacMillan:

Miserere

first recording

The Strathclyde Motets: Data est mihi

The Strathclyde Motets: Dominus dabit benignitatem

The Strathclyde Motets: Factus est repente

The Strathclyde Motets: O Radiant Dawn

The Strathclyde Motets: Videns Dominus

The Strathclyde Motets: Lux aeterna

The Strathclyde Motets: In splendoribus sanctorum

The Strathclyde Motets: Benedicimus Deum caeli

O bone Jesu

Tenebrae Responsories


Robert Farley (trumpet)

The Sixteen, Harry Christophers

Continuing their work with Scotland’s most prominent living composer, James MacMillan, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen will release the premiere recording of his exquisite new work Miserere for the CORO label in November.

The Sixteen’s UK premiere of the Miserere at the 2010 Spitalfields Festival won both public and critical acclaim. Based on Psalm 51, the Miserere mei has been set to music many times over the centuries but few composers have tackled the complete text. Allegri was one such composer, whose reputation rests on that single work. CORO is delighted to release the first recording of James MacMillan’s 21st-century take on the text.

The group is renowned for its work with the Scottish composer, and his O bone Jesu - a piece composed especially for The Sixteen and written in emulation of his countryman Robert Carver’s 19-voice O bone Jesu - was part of the ensemble’s 2002 and 2009 Choral Pilgrimage tours and features on this new CD.

The disc also contains a selection of The Strathclyde Motets and the Tenebrae Responsories.

“The Sixteen's uniquely warm and graceful sound certainly seems to have tapped a particularly timeless and atmospheric vein in Macmillan's creative persona and he has here presented them with something which tests not so much their collective virtuosity as their most profround musical instincts...This disc bears testament to a rare and wonderful relationship between composer, choir and conductor.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2011

“MacMillan not only imbibes the plainchant tradition of the medieval masters but embellishes it with his own distinctive touches...The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers, sing this music as if they really believe in it.” Financial Times, 13th November 2011 ****

“James MacMillan has always shown a flair for dramatic portrayals of spiritual conflict: light against dark, anxiety and despair against consolation...The Sixteen surmount them all [technical demands] triumphantly, and make a sound of impassioned warmth and pinpoint accuracy.” The Telegraph, 18th November 2011

“One reason this disc makes such a resoundingly positive impression is that The Sixteen are thoroughly caught up in MacMillan's writing....at every the stage the singers are in focus technically and emotionally...With everything superbly recorded, this is a disc to return to often, and in which to discover new things each time.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2012 *****

“this collection of a capella choral music is astonishingly accomplished...The occasional flashes of sensuality make this music a real pleasure to listen to; like Poulenc, MacMillan can’t disguise his delight when sneaking into his sacred texts a particularly fruity chord progression...This is contemporary religious music for believers and doubters, and the performances are beyond praise. Astonishingly good.” The Arts Desk, 10th March 2012

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MacMillan - Nothern Skies

MacMillan - Nothern Skies


MacMillan:

Cello Sonata No. 1

Kiss on Wood

Cello Sonata No. 2

world premiere

Northern Skies


Henri Demarquette (cello) & Graham Scott (piano)

MacMillan’s two sonatas for cello were written in 1998 and 2000 respectively and the collection of seven pieces for children “Northern Skies” is a little jewel in all its simplicity. ‘Kiss on Wood’ is a piece of religious inspiration – the wood carrying the kiss being that of the cross of Christ – where the choral beginning dissolves into a music of silence.

“Demarquette and Scott realise serenity and anguish with equal conviction.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2007 ****

“Perhaps most striking of all is the nine-minute Kiss on Wood (the title referring to the Cross) where the music seems to be acting as an interpreter in a conversation between Messiaen Silvestrow. Henri Demarquette and Graham Scott are dedicated exponents, though the dry acoustic is a drawback... the new disc should attract and reward anyone interested in MacMillan and in the contemporary cello repertoire.” Gramophone Magazine, August 2007

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MacMillan: Piano Concerto No. 2 & A Scotch Bestiary

MacMillan: Piano Concerto No. 2 & A Scotch Bestiary


MacMillan:

Piano Concerto No. 2

A Scotch Bestiary


“James MacMillan's A Scotch Bestiary is 'motivated by the great American cartoon makers who represented human characters in animal form,' says the composer, and is 'inspired by human archetypes and personalities encountered in Scottish life over the years'. The work's playful subtitle of 'Enigmatic variations on a zoological carnival at a Caledonian exhibition' acknowledges debts to Elgar, Saint-Saëns and Mussorgsky; indeed, the striding opening theme imitates the metre of (and linking role taken by) 'Promenade' in Pictures atan Exhibition. It's a caustic, loopy and exhilarating showpiece for organ and orchestra.
The Second Piano Concerto is scored for piano and strings, and is in three movements, the first of which, 'Cumnock Fair', initially appeared in 1999. This fretful dance fantasy's original title, 'Hoodicraw Peden', refers to a 17th-century Taliban-esque zealot, the subject of an Edwin Muir poem which witheringly refers to 'Burns and Scott, sham bards of a sham nation', thereby providing the titles for the concerto's remaining movements. 'Shambards' mockingly quotes the waltz from the Mad Scene in Lucia di Lammermoor while the lusty violin reel that launches 'Shamnation' acquires an increasingly desperate energy as it hurtles giddily towards the piano's unhinged, unnerving final flourish.
In both works Wayne Marshall covers himself in glory, as, for that matter, does the BBC Philharmonic under the composer's direction.
The sound is superlative to match.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

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MacMillan - Quickening & The Sacrifice

MacMillan - Quickening & The Sacrifice


MacMillan:

Quickening

The Sacrifice: Three Interludes


As James MacMillan celebrates his 50th birthday he here conducts his large-scale, complex work, The Quickening coupled with the symphonic suite The Sacrifice: Three Interludes, taken from his opera, The Sacrifice, a work based on a medieval Welsh tale and focusing on issues of love and conflict. Co-commissioned by the BBC Proms and the Philadelphia Orchestra, The Quickening sets poetry by MacMillan’s frequent collaborator Michael Symmons Roberts. Hailed as some of the most distinguished writing since that of Benjamin Britten, the powerfully imaginative score explores the themes of birth, new life and new impulses, but as MacMillan says, it also has its dark side out of which hope is glimpsed. Joining the BBC Philharmonic is the Hilliard Ensemble, who premiered the work at the BBC Proms, accompanied by the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus.

MacMillan was awarded the 2008 Royal Philharmonic Society Opera and Music Theatre Award The Sacrifice following its premiere in September 2007 by Welsh National Opera. As did Britten in the now-famous Four Sea Interludes from his opera Peter Grimes, MacMillan uses the Interludes as opportunities to withdraw from and reflect on the action, and he says, ‘the orchestra provides another dimension to the narrative and to the drama, which allows the imagination to travel deeper or in a different direction.’

James MacMillan is one of the UK’s leading contemporary composers, and several of his earlier compositions are available on Chandos under his direction, including The Confessions of Isobel Gowdie (Classic FM Award winner), and The Berserking.

“Quickening is a 45-minute cantata… that both celebrates and explores the themes of birth, new life and parenthood. There's absolutely no missing this music's visceral impact, spiritual fervour and strength of conviction… Its preceded by the Three Interludes that MacMillan has drawn from his second opera. Inspiration runs high in this communicative orchestral triptych, the second and third movements of which owe a not inconsiderable debt to the Passacaglia and Storm from Peter Grimes. Suffice it to say, the composer secures admirably disciplined and committed results from all involved.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2009

“Quickening itself could be described as 'catholic' in many senses: in the music's daringly wide stylistic embrace; in the ritual element that interweaves surprisingly easily with purposeful symphonic thinking; in its blending of the sensuous and the mystical, its delight in monumental grandeur and its splendidly un-Anglo Saxon contempt for constricting notions of 'good taste'. Of course Quickening's success depends to some extent on its performers. Fortunately everybody here delivers magnificently. Under MacMillan's strong and persuasive direction each of Quickening's variegated parts falls perfectly into place. The three interludes from MacMillan's opera The Sacrifice are more than an interesting filler. The same exuberant invention can be found here as in Quickening... The sound is stunning...” BBC Music Magazine, March 2009 *****

“ Quickening is a 45-minute cantata to a text by Michael Symmons Roberts that both celebrates and explores the themes of birth, new life and parenthood. 'The title,' explains MacMillan, 'refers explicitly to the instant of conception – “the quickening of seed that will become ripe grain” – or the moment that a woman first feels her baby kick.' It's a hugely ambitious but never intimidating canvas, the sizeable forces required (four solo voices, children's chorus and chamber organ, mixed chorus and a large orchestra including triple woodwind and a battery of percussion) and MacMillan's deployment of them inviting parallels with Britten's War Requiem.
After the expectant wonder and awe-struck mystery of the opening movement ('Incarnadine'), darker images of violence, menace, war and fragility occupy the two central tableaux ('Midwife' and 'Poppies'), before the ecstatic apex and magical fade-out of 'Living Water'. There's absolutely no missing this music's visceral impact, spiritual fervour and strength of conviction, attributes that should hopefully ensure it a place in the repertoire.
A powerful experience, in sum, and a work well worth getting to know. It's preceded by the Three Interludes that MacMillan has drawn from his second opera, The Sacrifice, based upon an ancient Welsh tale (from The Mabinogion) of love, warring clans and self-sacrifice. Inspiration runs high in this communicative orchestral triptych, the second and third movements of which owe a not inconsiderable debt to the Passacaglia and Storm from Peter Grimes. It certainly whets the appetite for a complete recording of the opera.
Suffice it to say, the composer secures admirably disciplined and committed results from all involved. What's more, Stephen Rinker's sound boasts spectacular amplitude, definition and range.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

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MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross

MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross


MacMillan:

Seven Last Words from the Cross

On The Annunciation Of The Blessed Virgin

Te Deum


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Macmillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross

Macmillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross


MacMillan:

Seven Last Words from the Cross

On The Annunciation Of The Blessed Virgin

Te Deum


“Seven Last Words was commissioned by the BBC in 1993 for Holy Week 1994, when it was broadcast in seven short programmes, a 'word' per day. It remains a highly compelling work. Under Stephen Layton, it certainly receives an impressive performance; an intense, deeply felt interpretation, full of beautiful and affecting singing, with all the elements – string orchestra, featured violin, choir and soloists – nicely balanced.
The other two works, On the Annunciation ofthe Blessed Virgin (1997) and Te Deum (2001), receive their premiere recordings. On theAnnunciation is an intricate but approachable setting for five-part choir and organ of a poem by the 17th-century poet Jeremy Taylor. The luminous lines for voices finally give way to a gradually fading dance for organ. The echoes of Messiaen in this device are matched by some of the organ chords and figures in the dramatic Te Deum, written to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee. From the contemplative opening phrases for male voices, somewhat reminiscent of Mahler's Urlicht, a dazzling part emerges for solo soprano, sung in characteristically stunning fashion by Elin Manahan Thomas. As ever, MacMillan incorporates all his allusions, including those to Scottish traditional music, into an utterly individual style. The performance confirms Polyphony's place in the front rank of choirs.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

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