MacMillan: Seven Last Words From The Cross

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Macmillan
WORKS: Seven Last Words From The Cross
PERFORMER: Dmitri Ensemble/Graham Ross
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570719


The work of the youth-based Dmitri Ensemble comes with a ringing endorsement from James MacMillan himself, and within a few seconds of Seven Last Words from the Cross it becomes clear why. Singing and playing are polished, focused and alert; but it’s the controlled intensity that’s most striking here.

The first movement’s lamenting string figure – like the hushed breathing of the sea – carries an emotional charge out of all proportion to its apparent means. Above it the chorus’s chanting, keening figures grow steadily in power: the sense of a strong sustained line behind the men’s overlapping speech-like comments is potent. The massive block-like chords of ‘Woman Behold Thy Son!’ are impressive enough, but the silences between them are still more gripping.

Moreover, I can’t recall a performance that so forcefully contrasts the sweet lyricism of ‘Verily, I say unto you’ and the uncompromising non‑tonal harshness of ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?’.

Nor has the journey of Seven Last Words ever seemed to be over so quickly – at the same time urging one to reflect on why these words (and those of the three shorter pieces) can still mean something even to faithless ears.

Until now I have been happy enough with the recording by Polyphony on Hyperion, but in comparison with the Dmitri Ensemble’s contained heat it now sounds just a little cool.


The Naxos recording sound too is outstanding, fully exploiting the resonant church acoustic but never to the detriment of detail. Stephen Johnson