Macmillan: Cantos sagrados; Tremunt videntes angeli; Christus vincit; Divo aloysio sacrum; The Gallant Weaver; A Child’s Prayer; Seinte Mari moder milde; So Deep

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COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Cantos sagrados; Tremunt videntes angeli; Christus vincit; Divo aloysio sacrum; The Gallant Weaver; A Child’s Prayer; Seinte Mari moder milde; So Deep
PERFORMER: Elysian Singers/Sam Laughton
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 507
James MacMillan has never made any secret of his religious beliefs, even in the early part of his career when they seemed to sit uneasily alongside his equally explicit political ideals. In fact some of his best music resulted from the creative friction between those two conflicting impulses, while conversely some of his least successful pieces have been those recent works in which the religious content has been unconstrained. The dichotomy was managed best in his music of the late Eighties and early Nineties, with the result that easily the most vivid and original music in this selection of choral pieces is the earliest – the three Cantos sagrados that MacMillan composed in 1990, combining English translations of poems by the South Americans Ariel Dorfman and Ana Maria Mendoza with devotional texts. MacMillan used the same synthesis in his remarkable concert piece Búsqueda, and here the raw edges to the sonorities, and the rhythmic exuberance of the choral writing carry the same intensity. The rest of this disc is intermittently interesting. Though the Elysian Singers under Sam Laughton give robust yet tonally refined performances, there is much in this collection that lapses too easily into the anonymous, vaguely Britten-tinged idiom which has dominated British devotional music of the last quarter-century. MacMillan is a better, more distinctive composer than that, and at his most convincing when he follows his own musical instincts rather than just delivering what he believes his audiences want to hear. Andrew Clements

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