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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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Who Are These Angels?
New Choral Music by James MacMillan
Cappella Nova follow on from their “undeniably beautiful” (The Financial Times) Linn debut, ‘James MacMillan – Tenebrae’, with their second volume of choral works by the leading contemporary composer.
The outstanding Scottish group have a unique relationship with James MacMillan, the composer having written several works for them.
All of the tracks are premiere recordings, recorded under the supervision of the composer. Included is the last of the Strathclyde Motets – seven having been included on ‘Tenebrae’.
Also included is the mass James MacMillan wrote specifically for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Scotland in September 2010, sung by over 150,000 people.
Cappella Nova is “famous for its performances of contemporary music” (The Guardian), having commissioned and premiered more than 60 new works since 1986.
Besides appearances in many British festivals, the group has toured many times abroad, including several visits to Europe and the USA.
James MacMillan launched his international career at the BBC Proms in 1990 with the critically acclaimed The Confession of Isobel Gowdie. Since then MacMillan has been awarded a CBE (January 2004) and has created one of the strongest portfolios of contemporary compositions with many award-winning recordings and acclaimed concert performances worldwide.
“The group's engagement with the music registers throughout this important release, touching everything from the technical challenges of the second series of Strathclyde motets to the comparably demanding simplicity of MacMillan's papal Mass...The breadth of the composer's ideas and his myriad expressive contrasts, reinforced by superb singing and instrumental contributions and gold-standard recorded sound, hold the ear and invite repeated listening.” Classic FM Magazine, March 2012 *****
“Cappella Nova present illuminating performances which perfectly capture MacMillan's profound sense of the sacred, but here the sense of looking back over the centuries is especially strong...[an] essential addition to the rapidly growing discography of one of Britain's most self-assured musical voices.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2012
“Approachable without being apologetic, emotional but with a sense of dignity, the best of these works can both delight and challenge...Everything is performed with elegance and the requisite intensity, and the recordings are clear and atmospheric.” BBC Music Magazine, March 2012 ****
“Above all, this is beautiful, affecting music that is also severely practical...one of the chief pleasures of listening to it resides in the ease of imagining taking part in a performance. As with the earlier MacMillan release, Cappella Nova under Tavener's direction delivers performances every bit as luminous and attractive as the music itself.” International Record Review, May 2012
“This is an absorbing disc. It is full of interest and I admire greatly the way in which the composer responds to the words he is setting. Through his music he enriches and enhances them – as a good musical setting of words always should. We are challenged at times but it’s always accessible.” MusicWeb International, August 2012
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The Queen of Heaven
Now, in its 13th year, The Choral Pilgrimage stands as testament to Harry Christophers’ ongoing mission to bring a wide variety of sacred music back to the kind of buildings for which it was written. Thanks to the enthusiasm and support from audiences, the project continues to thrive and some 20,000 people are expected to attend concerts on this year’s tour.
The 2013 tour began on 2nd March in Guildford Cathedral, and will take in a total of 34 concerts around the UK and Ireland before a concluding concert in Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh on the 26 October.
Allegri’s Miserere is the single most famous piece of sacred music ever written. Although it is instantly recognisable with its haunting tones, mythology surrounds it, and this year’s Choral Pilgrimage allows Harry Christophers to explore its evolution and enduring appeal.
James MacMillan dedicated his powerful and emotional setting of the Miserere to Harry Christophers and The Sixteen who premiered the work in 2010 and recorded it shortly afterwards. Alongside Allegri, MacMillan is one of the few composers to ever set the full Miserere to music.
His exquisite version is one of the highlights of this year’s programme.
Arguably the greatest composer of liturgical music of all time, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina is often billed as ‘The Prince of Music’ and by some ‘The Saviour of Church Music’. Palestrina was a towering figure in Renaissance polyphony and shines out amongst the many great composers of the time for his immaculate craftsmanship and sheer output of works. The Sixteen have recorded three volumes of Palestrina’s works on their own label CORO, the latest of which includes repertoire from the 2013 tour and is included in this special collection.
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