James MacMillan

James MacMillan: Magnificat

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The music of Scottish composer James MacMillan is cast in an appealing modern idiom that rests largely on expressions of the composer's Catholic faith. He has achieved great popularity in Britain, perhaps fueled by listeners coming to him from the likes of John Rutter and wanting music that makes use of more of the resources of contemporary musical vocabulary. His Magnificat, composed in 1999, is only one of four works on this album, but it is arguably the best, and it would serve any chorus-and-orchestra concert well. MacMillan specializes in big contrasts of tonality and texture, and his solutions here are economical: the choir's material is largely tonal, surrounded by darker and more troublesome material in the orchestra. The choir fills the role of an individual soul undergoing a radiant religious experience in a simple, convincing way. The final Nunc dimittis, although not directly linked to the Magnificat (it was composed in 2000 in response to a different commission), might as well have been, for it is cut from similar cloth. The more recent Advent antiphon O (the title refers to the syllable that begins so many phrases of religious music) has a starker feel, with a trumpet solo set against the choir's lengthy iteration of the titular syllable. The 26-minute Tryst for orchestra, lacking the religious referents, may be tougher going for many listeners, but the composer/conductor MacMillan gets very sympathetic results from the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic and Netherlands Radio Choir throughout, marking perhaps the strongest performances of his work by non-British musicians.

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