Classical CD Reviews

JAMES MACMILLAN: Jubilate Deo; Serenity; Magnificat and Nunc dimittis; Magnificat; Nunc dimittis; Tremunt videntes angeli; On Love; … here in hiding …; Give me justice; The Lamb has come for us from the House of David; Le tombeau de Georges Rouault – Jonathan Vaughn, organ/ Wells Cathedral Choir/ Matthew Owens – Hyperion

An interesting compilation that fails to live up to the considerable expectations when considering this composer.

Published on September 20, 2012

JAMES MACMILLAN: Jubilate Deo; Serenity; Magnificat and Nunc dimittis; Magnificat; Nunc dimittis; Tremunt videntes angeli; On Love; … here in hiding …; Give me justice; The Lamb has come for us from the House of David; Le tombeau de Georges Rouault – Jonathan Vaughn, organ/ Wells Cathedral Choir/ Matthew Owens – Hyperion

JAMES MACMILLAN: Jubilate Deo; Serenity; Magnificat and Nunc dimittis; Magnificat; Nunc dimittis; Tremunt videntes angeli; On Love; … here in hiding …; Give me justice; The Lamb has come for us from the House of David; Le tombeau de Georges Rouault – Jonathan Vaughn, organ/ Wells Cathedral Choir/ Matthew Owens – Hyperion CDA67867, 78:44 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:

James Macmillan, one of the best and most notable composers on the current scene, is to my mind basically a large scale composer. The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, St. John Passion, Veni, Veni Emmanuel, and Seven Last Words from the Cross are all major statements of a major talent. This disc attempts to scale down his thoughts into a more compact and perhaps lesser confrontational manner. There are some successes, but generally speaking I am not sure that this medium best suits his compositional processes; he seems to feel confined here, as if wanting to break out into more familiar and appropriate territory.

It could be that his music simply requires more time to settle in. While there are a few pieces of typically English-inspired anthems like The Lamb has come for us from the House of David (the earliest work here from 1979), other pieces are thornier and more difficult to take in, and leave a sense of incompleteness in the musical palate. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the longest piece here, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis is the most successful. But even the extended organ work Le tombeau de Georges Rouault, fails to connect in its rather disjointed imagery inspired by what the composer calls Rouault’s (1871-1958) work as “dark, subtle, and moving in its observation of the frailty of human life.”

No one is a bigger Macmillan fan that I am, but this album just doesn’t provide the requisite punch that we have come to expect from this composer, though there are undoubted moments of beauty and inspiration in some of the pieces. The sound is very problematic; though the performances are fine the choir is extremely recessed, as if we are sitting in the back of Wells Cathedral. As a result the recording lacks power and presence, something needed in Macmillan’s music more than others, and a degree of clarity is lost. But this is not fatal and those wanting to explore this disc will still be able to appreciate the composer’s efforts. Start other places if you are new to this man’s amazing music.

—Steven Ritter




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