Markus Stenz / Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic

James MacMillan: St. Luke Passion

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The devoutly Catholic Scots composer James MacMillan has written a good deal of sacred music, including one Passion setting prior to this St. Luke Passion. It generally has a sober quality that lacks the personal quality one might expect. This work is on a rather small scale that would seem to suit it for a good British amateur choir, and one can imagine performances more intimate in spirit than the one here by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Netherlands Radio Choir under Markus Stenz, apparently the result of the co-commissioning of the work by the Dutch concert organization NTR ZaterdagMatinee. The work differs from Passion settings like the roughly contemporaneous St. John Passion of Bob Chilcott that take Bach as a model. MacMillan has no solo Evangelist or Jesus or Pilate, letting the choir and orchestra bear the transmission of the Revised Standard version of the biblical texts. The words of Jesus are assigned to a children's choir, here the Netherlands Female Youth Choir, and the adult choirs break up into different textures to express the text. The crowd scenes, for example, are done in busy polyphony. The essentially impersonal quality of MacMillan's setting recedes at the points where he frames the Passion sections of the text with other, more meditative words of Luke, a highly effective device. The live recording from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is a major attraction; no texts are provided, but for the most part none are needed. Recommended for fans of MacMillan and the contemporary British school in general.

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