James MacMillan: Since it was the Day of Preparation

Hebrides Ensemble / Synergy Vocals

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James MacMillan: Since it was the Day of Preparation Review

by James Manheim

This work, which forms something of a trilogy with two earlier Passion settings of composer James MacMillan, takes up the period of time after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It follows, as MacMillan has in earlier works, the pattern set down by the long tradition of Passion music running back to Heinrich Sch├╝tz and Bach, comprising declamatory, but in no way dry, solo text exposition interspersed with polyphonic choral writing in a Renaissance style (several with texts by the French Renaissance cleric Jean Tisserand). The new wrinkle in MacMillan's writing is the use of an extremely distinctive ensemble of cello, clarinet, horn, harp, and theorbo, along with bells on which the composer joins in. The result is a uniquely powerful piece of sacred music that combines the gravity imparted by the somewhat antique style with a personal response to the texts that culminates in moments of intense dramatic power. Sample "The Appearance on the Shore of Tiberias," track 17, to hear the ways MacMillan can punctuate his narrative with economical instrumental combinations, and also the remarkable flexibility of his declamation/recitative/solo song. The entire work is consistent enough in its musical language to hang together convincingly, and the Delphian's recording at the RSNO Centre in Glasgow is resonant and clear. This is a major religious work.

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