Cappella Nova - Who are these Angels? - Fanfare
05 February 2012Fanfare
Scottish composer James MacMillan (b.1959) has
written music for all levels of choirs throughout his career, but since
2004 he has produced a particularly large number of works specifically
"designed for a good, amateur church or cathedral choir, or amateur
secular choir." Of course, this refers to an "amateur" choir by British
standards. Due to the vastly different choral standards, most of these
works would hardly prove easy for a typical American chorus. MacMillan
has grouped many of these pieces under the heading
, so named because many were written for the
choral ensembles at Strathclyde University, under the direction of Alan
Tavener. A lifelong devout Roman Catholic, MacMillan was asked in 2005
to accept a post as music director for a small Dominican parish near
Glasgow. No doubt his weekly work as a church choir director inspired
him to compose a number of these liturgical pieces.
I have written before on numerous occasions that
I believe MacMillan to be one of the most compelling voices of our
time, with a personal musical language that draws deep on a rich
musical past to forge an intensely expressive musical present. Though
his dazzling orchestral scores have won him great acclaim, what he
achieves in these sacred choral works (most intended for liturgical
performance) is no less great, and I believe places him in a truly
select company of the absolute finest composers in the entire history of
the art form.
These two superb choral releases collect most all
of MacMillan's shorter choral offerings from the last decade. There are
so many gems here that it's hard to know where to begin in describing
them. Both discs focus on a sampling of motets from the 15 that make up
the Strathclyde cycle. (Neither disc presents the cycle complete, nor is
every motet covered even between the two discs.) The other items range
from the absolutely stunning large-scale
(2009) to the ebullient and unexpectedly dance-like
Tota pulchra es,
from the simple and heartbreakingly beautiful
Think of How God Loves You
to the congregational
Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman
(2010), written for the papal visit to the
United Kingdom and the Mass celebrating Newman's beatification. The most
popular of these pieces (though many are quite new) is the glorious
O Radiant Dawn
(one of the only Strathclyde Motets in English), which has already been taken up by a number of American choirs.
Though several of the Strathclyde Motets overlap
between the two discs, that is hardly a reason not to acquire them both.
Both discs are excellently performed.
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