MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross (CD Review - BBC Radio 3, 2005)

If you want contemporary choral music that will challenge you rather than just relax you, then you might want to try this: Seven Last Words from the Cross written in 1994 by the Scottish composer James MacMillan. I think what I like most about this work is that it’s so unashamedly British in style. And while it is distinctively British, it’s not in any way parochial. MacMillan is a committed Roman Catholic, and his music springs fully-formed out of a fervent global Catholicism.

Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia are conducted with flair and considerable attention to detail by Stephen Layton. The quality of the singing is beyond reproach, and Polyphony’s performances do a great service to MacMillan’s music. Apart from the Seven Last Words there are two other pieces by MacMillan on this Hyperion CD, the most recent of which is a Te Deum written in 2001. This is the Te Deum’s first appearance on CD, and I imagine this will remain the definitive recording for some time to come. The choir has such wonderful internal resonance, over which soars the seemingly effortless Soprano of Elin Manahan Thomas.

Highly recommended, especially if you’ve yet to be convinced that James MacMillan deserves his burgeoning reputation as the finest British composer of his generation. This is first-rate music performed by a first-rate choir.

Jeremy Summerly

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