MacMillan: St Luke Passion

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Challenge Classics
WORKS: St Luke Passion
PERFORMER: Peter Dicke (organ); Netherlands Radio Choir; National Youth Choir; Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/ Markus Stenz


The composer as vessel: that is the image suggested time and again in this numinous retelling of the gospel story, James MacMillan’s second. Such is the lean efficiency of his musical language, so cleanly untrammelled his response to the Biblical text, that you sense the work simply emerging naturally, an organic birthing of form and content where the artfully shaping hand of the composer is conspicuous by its apparent absence.

That’s an illusion, of course, but the effects are unusually direct and wrenching. The moving intimacy of the Last Supper, the nauseating guttural eructations of ‘Crucify, crucify him!’, the extraordinary burgeoning of a Lutheran chorale over the searing Ivesian coda to the crucifixion – these are but a few of many intensely striking episodes in a setting alive with drama and imagination at every moment.

The recording is of the world premiere, and while there is occasional scruffiness in the orchestral playing, you wouldn’t swap the immediacy and commitment for a more carefully tailored alternative. Special praise goes to the Netherlands Female Youth Choir for its wonderful assumption of the part of Christ, especially in the many potentially awkward passages of melisma. All told, this is a riveting and humbling experience.


Terry Blain