Macmillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross; Cantos sagrados

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COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: BMG Catalyst
WORKS: Seven Last Words from the Cross; Cantos sagrados
PERFORMER: Polyphony, London CO/James MacMillan; Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68125 2 DDD
The Seven Last Words from the Cross illustrates better than anything else James MacMillan has composed to date his knack of producing works that pack an immediately accessible emotional punch within a musical language that remains aware of its post-modern obligations. This sequence of unaccompanied choral settings began life as a series of seven short pieces for television, a musical meditation for Holy Week last year. In that form the visual imagery and the vivid effects of MacMillan’s music tended to cancel each other out; on CD the richness and power of the vocal writing are heard unadorned.


For whether or not one views MacMillan’s language as opportunist, as just a canny appropriation of a whole range of useful rhetorical devices, there’s no doubt of its effectiveness, nor of the composer’s skill in manipulating not only these resources but also his audience’s emotional response. For there’s never a doubt that this is music strictly at the service of its message; as in the three Cantos sagrados from 1989, with which the Seven Last Words are coupled here, the imagination is clearly a powerful one, even though the personality that generates it all is sometimes hard to pin down precisely. Andrew Clements