MacMillan: Magnificat

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: James MacMillan
LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: MacMillan: Magnificat
WORKS: O; Tryst; Magnificat; Nunc Dimittis
PERFORMER: Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic; Netherlands Radio Choir/James MacMillan


A world premiere recording of the Advent antiphon O opens this second volume in Challenge Classics’s James MacMillan series. It is an excellent demonstration of the benefits accruing when a composer is also a technically fine conductor. There’s a special atmosphere of absolute certitude and devotion about it, as the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic strings cast a numinous shimmer round the three-part women’s voices, and the trumpet weaves a plaintive Ivesian commentary. The performance sounds definitive.

Admirably sharp woodwind work, reminiscent of Copland and Stravinsky, marks the opening of Tryst, the early (1989) 26-minute movement for orchestra. The hand of the composer-conductor is again evident in the confidently executed violin glissandos which come later, and the keening echo-effects on strings in the work’s fourth segment.

The Magnificat (1999) is built by MacMillan to a raptly glowing climax, and he makes the irruption of the doxology thereafter sound positively brutal. A sense of awe pervades the Nunc Dimittis (2000), a strongly distinctive setting, with Messiaen-like outbursts of birdsong twitter from the woodwind. That Challenge Classics should omit the sung texts from their booklet notes seems unaccountable.

Though the recorded sound is on the close side, and occasionally has slightly manipulated balances, this is a series which all admirers of MacMillan’s music should follow avidly.


Terry Blain