The Hebrides Ensemble present ‘Since it was the day of preparation…’ by James Macmillan

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COMPOSERS: James MacMillan
LABELS: Delphian
ALBUM TITLE: Macmillan
WORKS: Since it was the day of preparation…
PERFORMER: Brindley Sherratt (bass); Synergy Vocals; Hebrides Ensemble/William Conway
CATALOGUE NO: Delphian DCD 34168

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The seed for Since it was the day of preparation… was planted when James MacMillan finished his setting of the St John Passion (2007), and read the next sentence in John’s account, which leads the reader onward to the Resurrection. MacMillan decided to base a new work on the gospel’s closing section. Here, now, is its premiere recording.

Central to its efficacy is the outstanding quintet of vocal soloists. Tenor Benedict Hymas of Synergy Vocals sets the bar high in his unaccompanied opening monologue, voicing the melismata with rare fluidity and a patient expressivity which compels the listener’s attention. MacMillan’s writing for the four consort singers is insinuatingly expressive, whether in the jabbing disorientation of the scene where the empty tomb is discovered, or the strange, crepuscular beauty of their reaction as the risen Christ is encountered.

The voice of Jesus is initially heard deep in the bass register, and set in a slightly more recessed acoustic. This imparts a numinous other-worldliness strongly communicated in Brindley Sherratt’s resonantly emotional performance. Cello, clarinet, horn, harp and theorbo accompany the vocalists. Each gets a solo ‘motet’, and all combine in the radiant coda, where there is great poignancy as well as hopefulness in the music.

Since it was the day of preparation… is on the face of it a chamber piece, with just ten performers in total needed. Yet in an extraordinarily perceptive and affecting manner it broaches enduring universal issues and, in this wonderfully committed recording, already feels like a modern masterpiece.

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Terry Blain