Cappella Nova - Who are these Angels? - Musicweb International
22 August 2012Musicweb International
This disc is a follow-up to the very fine 2007 Cappella Nova CD which included the first set of James MacMillan's Strathclyde Motets (review).
It contains the second and final set of seven motets. Most of the music
here is of fairly recent vintage and the majority is designed for use
in the Roman Catholic liturgy. That includes the short Mass of Blessed
John Henry Newman. This sets the words from the new English translation
of the Mass which the Roman Catholic Church brought into use towards the
end of 2011. MacMillan says in the booklet that he is "really excited"
by this new translation; well, he and I will have to differ there but
it's good that he's moving quickly to compose some worthwhile music to
fit the new words. Listeners should bear in mind that the mainly unison
music has been specifically designed for congregational participation.
That doesn't mean that it's in any way simplistic; I should think the
average congregation would need to do a bit of work to master it but the
effort would be worthwhile.
The remaining music is specifically to be sung by a choir. I was struck by Tota pulchra es.
MacMillan's response to this Marian text is like no other that I've
heard. Most are gentle and prayerful or implicitly feminine in tone.
MacMillan, by contrast, has composed a surprisingly dramatic, urgent
piece. In his setting the devotion to Mary is exciting and fervent and
Alan Tavener and his expert choir give it a thrillingly affirmative
performance. Another fervent piece is the Easter proclamation Pascha nostrum immolatus est. Indeed, here the fervour is evident even when the music is quieter in tone.
O Radiant Dawn is about the only piece on the disc that I've
heard previously. It's become quite popular and I'm not surprised. It's
very attractive and its harmonic language is pretty straightforward. The
music has an obvious - and beneficial - indebtedness to O nata lux by Tallis.
Os mutorum is one of the pieces on the disc that's not
specifically for liturgical use. This is an interesting piece which is
sung by Canty, a four-voice female ensemble which is a spin-off from
Cappella Nova. Rather like Anonymous 4 these ladies specialise in
medieval music but they also do quite a bit of music of our own time.
Here they sing with a regular collaborator, William Taylor, a specialist
in the performance of ancient harp music. MacMillan's piece is chaste
and pure in tone. The textures are spare and the music moves slowly.
It's most effective. And lo, the Angel of the Lord was designed
for performance by a group resourced to sing multi-part or antiphonal
music; in this case the Birmingham-based Ex Cathedra. The piece sets the
passage from St Luke's Gospel in which the Angels announce the birth of
Christ to the shepherds. The writing is imaginative and evocative,
especially what I can only describe as the choral fireworks at the words
"Glory to God in the highest". This splendid piece is sung tremendously
well by Cappella Nova.
I was intrigued to hear what MacMillan would do with John Donne's wonderful lines in Bring us, O Lord.
Sir William Harris is the exemplar here with his glorious setting of
the same words. MacMillan's music is very different and yet ... to my ears
he achieves the same ambience of longing and quiet intensity. I admire
this piece very much indeed.
I'm not quite sure what I make of Who are these Angels?
Although the piece is dated 2009 it appears that elements of it go back
to when the composer was just seventeen. The new work into which he's
incorporated that early music is rather strange. There are three
strands. The male voices declaim passages in Latin - the teenage music,
if you like - while the ladies sing a simpler refrain in English. The
third strand is provided by the string quartet whose music is mainly
quiet and discreet. The closing
moments feature the quartet alone playing strange, high glissandi which,
it is suggested in the notes, sound like bird cries.
This is an absorbing disc. It is full of interest and I admire greatly
the way in which the composer responds to the words he is setting.
Through his music he enriches and enhances them - as a good musical
setting of words always should. We are challenged at times but it's
always accessible. The music is superbly performed by Cappella Nova and
the recorded sound is excellent, as you'd expect from this label. As
with the earlier release, the booklet notes take the form of a very
interesting conversation between MacMillan and Rebecca Tavener. I
suspect many of these pieces are receiving their first recordings here.
Read more: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2012/Aug12/MacMillan_Angels_CKD383.htm#ixzz24H4iZdog
Related LinksCantyCappella NovaWho are these Angels?