Macmillan: Visitatio sepulchri; Búsqueda

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COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: BMG Catalyst
WORKS: Visitatio sepulchri; Búsqueda
PERFORMER: Scottish CO/Ivor Bolton, James MacMillan
CATALOGUE NO: 09026-62669-2 DDD
The fierce rhythmic unisons, the modal keening, the insistent patter of unpredictably accented string quavers: these, and much else, are still there in James MacMillan’s Visitatio sepulchri (1992-3). Scored for speaking ‘cantor’, six singers and chamber orchestra, the work draws on a 13th-century Easter Day liturgical drama and the Te deum. Performable in concert, it is really, as its composer says, a ‘40-minute one-act opera’.

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Visitatio sepulchri, indeed, contains some naturally, gloriously operatic music, though the first of its three scenes is purely orchestral. A playing of the second and third – the latter taking on everything from Peter Maxwell Davies to Puccini – recently stunned a student audience at a talk given by its composer. This is neither ‘holy minimalism’ nor gratuitous, indulgent eclecticism. Its powerful dramatic impact is admirably controlled, and justified, by skilful long-range structural planning as well as extremely expert writing for both voices and instruments. Only the spoken ending seems weak.

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Búsqueda (written in 1988) shows its more avant-garde origins as a companion piece to Berio’s Laborintus II. But its setting of poems by the Argentinian ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ and fragments of the Latin Mass already reveals many of the essentials of MacMillan’s mature manner. Keith Potter