Dmitri Ensemble / Graham Ross

James MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross

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The Seven Last Words from the Cross exemplifies a conundrum not uncommon in the work of James MacMillan: the juxtaposition of sections of exceptional beauty and power with sections that are merely very good. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, The first movement of Seven Last Words from the Cross, for chorus and string orchestra, is overwhelming, using overlapping and conflicting layers of various texts, tonalities, vocal techniques textures, and languages to depict the wrenching physical and emotional chaos of the crucifixion. The second movement, "Woman, Behold, Thy Son!," in contrast, is a largely straightforward choral setting, which, heard on its own, would be impressive, but its conventionality and lack of probing insight make it come across as a letdown after the staggering first movement. The majority of the movements, fortunately, have the musical and emotional depth and complexity of the opening, giving the work as a whole the power, intensity, inventiveness, and originality that make MacMillan such an outstanding composer when he's at his best. The CD includes three attractive but fiendishly difficult a cappella choral works, performed with confidence and energy by the Dmitri Ensemble, led by Graham Ross. Naxos' sound is clear and vibrant.

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