MacMillan: Tenebrae Responsories

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COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: MacMillan: Tenebrae Responsories
WORKS: Tu es Petrus; Dignus est Agnus; Tenebrae Responsories; Summae Trinitati; Benedictus deus; Ave maris stella; Tota pulchra es; After Virtue; Serenity; The Edinburgh Te Deum; Ecce sacredos magnus
PERFORMER: The Choir of Westminster Cathedral; London Brass/Martin Baker; Peter Stevens (organ)


Check your volume setting carefully before pressing play on this recording – track one, Tu es Petrus, has the capacity to rattle windows from 50 paces. From a combination of seven brass instruments, timpani, percussion and organ, James MacMillan creates a magnificent effusion of sound, over which the trebles of the Westminster Cathedral Choir soar dramatically. The piece was written for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the cathedral three years ago: what a welcome it must have given him.

The three movements of Tenebrae Responsories are remarkable for different reasons. From the chromatic clamour of voices as Jesus laments being forsaken by the Father, to the stunning conclusion, where a solo treble (Alexander Hopkins) intones a lonely threnody laced with slides and melismas, this is an intensely concentrated sequence visiting dark, lonely places of the spirit.

Of the nine shorter pieces, the ebullient Edinburgh Te Deum (a student work) is particularly valuable, further attesting to MacMillan’s reputation as one of the finest living composers of ecclesiastical music. Martin Baker’s direction is masterly.


Terry Blain