James MacMillan: Alpha and Omega

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: James MacMillan
LABELS: Linn
ALBUM TITLE: Alpha & Omega
WORKS: Missa Dunelmi; St Patrick’s Magnificat;…fiat mihi…;I am your Mother; Invocation; Domine non secundum peccata nostra; Alpha & Omega; Cum vidisset Jesus
PERFORMER: Madeleine Mitchell (violin); Cappella Nova; James MacMillan; Alan Tavener
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 439

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Cappella Nova make James MacMillan’s Missa Dunelmi sound much easier to sing than it actually is, and that’s a compliment. The tricky cluster chords at the start of the Sanctus sound tight, the eight-part writing in the Gloria clearly voiced and confidently balanced.

Perhaps it helps having MacMillan himself directing: it’s interesting his default dynamic in the piece is restrained and quietly spoken, enhancing the devotional atmosphere of the performance. The Agnus Dei particularly benefits, its expansive phrases flowing gently yet unfalteringly forward.

Alan Tavener conducts the rest of the programme, which has many other highlights – the supple solo tenor work (uncredited) in St Patrick’s Magnificat; the ethereal hummed backdrop to Invocation (the first time the word ‘seismograph’ has been set in sacred music?); Madeleine Mitchell’s keening violin interlude in Domine non secundum peccata nostra.

Most striking of all is Alpha & Omega, a setting of texts from Revelation. Proceeding initially in a sequence of block chords, some wrenched with a mixture of anguish and ecstasy, the sub-divided writing (nine-part) is nailed with pinpoint accuracy by the 18 singers. A marvellous set of performances.

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Terry Blain