Macmillan: Strathclyde Motets; Introit: Give me Justice; Missa Brevis; Tenebrae Responsories

COMPOSERS: Macmillan
LABELS: Linn CKD
ALBUM TITLE: Macmillan
WORKS: Strathclyde Motets; Introit: Give me Justice; Missa Brevis; Tenebrae Responsories
PERFORMER: Cappella Nova/Alan Tavener
CATALOGUE NO: 301 (hybrid CD/SACD)
This recording bears witness to a close relationship between conductor, choir and composer. The Strathclyde Motets and Tenebrae Responsories are the main items, both commissioned by conductor Alan Tavener. Cappella Nova’s sound is lightweight and translucent, which sets the bar high for such harmonically rich and turbulent music – there is no hiding behind extravagant gesture or upholstered tone. But by and large the performances are successful, soaring and exultant. There is a real feeling for the awestruck (‘Dominus dabit’ comes across powerfully in this respect) and for MacMillan’s favoured Celtic cantillation. Sometimes bull’s-eye tuning does elude the group, or a touch of tiredness colours the blend, though it would be churlish to claim that these despoil the endeavour. The Tenebrae Responsories, scored for eight solo voices, are hugely important new works, and, with vocal techniques ranging from the inchoate to the conventionally chordal, are technical studies at a virtuoso level. Having commissioned it, Cappella Nova has a birthright to perform this music, and they do indeed bring special understanding to it, though I am curious to know how more substantial voices would engage with it. Ultimately the emotional vulnerability that Cappella Nova so courageously lays bare is telling enough.

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