Macmillan: Magnificat and Nunc dimittis;

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Magnificat and Nunc dimittis; Le tombeau de Georges Rouault; …here in hiding…; Tremunt videntes angeli; Jubilate Deo etc
PERFORMER: Jonathan Vaughn (organ); Wells Cathedral Choir/Matthew Owens


To praise is not necessarily to shout loudly. It’s an idea that underpins James MacMillan’s remarkable setting of the Magnificat, in which Mary’s words are seen as primarily meditative in nature, with inquisitive organ commentaries extending the period available for contemplation. The beginning of the Nunc dimittis is also potently personalised, the prayer of the dying Simeon initially a barely audible death rattle deep in the basses and organ pedals. Gradually a magnificent, valedictory ‘Amen’ is articulated, the departing soul embracing (not raging against) the dying of the light.

MacMillan’s intensely original thinking about traditional church forms and formulae is also evident in the opening Jubilate Deo, another ostensibly joyful text. It’s mired here in a measure of Old Testament fearfulness, reflecting the composer’s ‘strange, bewildering’ relationship with death-row murderer Willie Pondexter, executed in 2009.


MacMillan’s vocal writing can be dauntingly virtuosic (the superb …here in hiding… was originally for The Hilliard Ensemble). Yet, his shorter, simpler pieces are equally engaged with spirituality. The Wells singing is of a consistently high standard (MacMillan’s trademark use of melisma is particularly well assimilated), and organist Jonathan Vaughn delivers a scintillating account of Le tombeau de Georges Rouault, the magnificent solo piece which ends this absorbing programme. Terry Blain