Elysian Singers of London / Sam Laughton

MacMillan: One Equal Music

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Composer James MacMillan has become extraordinarily popular since coming on the scene in the early 1990s, and listeners can choose from various ways of performing and presenting his music. A newcomer on the MacMillan scene is the London choir the Elysian Singers under director Sam Laughton. One Equal Music (the title comes from John Donne, and the rainbow flag on the cover does not signify anything about gay rights) is the Singers' second MacMillan album, following on Cantos Sagrados. That release exposed more of the political strain in MacMillan's music, but otherwise One Equal Music could serve as a strong choice for listeners wanting to sample MacMillan's music. These are mostly recent works, and they explore his response to texts. He is something like a less sentimental, less conventional John Rutter, and like Rutter, he is a wide reader and imaginative text-setter. The strongest influence is MacMillan's Catholic faith, and there are several Latin settings. However, there are also secular pieces, including hints of MacMillan's enthusiasm for Scottish traditional music; you might sample his setting of Charles Hamilton Sorley's When You See the Millions of Mouthless Dead, recovered from among that poet's effects after his death in World War I. It lies somewhere between sacred and secular, and it exemplifies the mix of sacred and secular that has made MacMillan so popular. There are many other nice touches, including a solo violin that wanders through these otherwise a cappella pieces, and the Elysian Singers have some texture to their sound quality, maintaining text intelligibility in the acoustically resonant environment of an auditorium at University College School, Hampstead, London. Recommended.

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