'From the moment this CD begins, the senses tingle with the magical, spiritual nature of the music' (The Sunday Herald)
'This music, the Mass in particular, is virtually guaranteed a passage into the central repertoire of choirs around the world; it could hardly have had a better springboard than this recording' (International Record Review)
'A busy railway carriage is probably not the ideal environment in which to listen to James MacMillan’s music. But the fact that it transported me to another place is proof of the power of his music' (Classic FM Magazine)
'Anyone familiar with the ambience of Westminster Cathedral from the sound of the choir and organ to the pungent scents of wax polish and incense will feel at home immediately and it is difficult to imagine this music sounding as good in any other place. Highly recommended, these performances of this powerful music will repay concentrated listening and repetition' (Organists' Review)
'A programme of exceptional quality and interest, which no genuine lover of cathedral music should ignore' (Cathedral Music)
'Powerful liturgical music from one of today's most admired composers, performed with passionate intensity' (Gramophone)
'It is hard to think of any recent music that conveys religious ecstasy as intensely as James MacMillan's Mass … music of high voltage from first to last … the singing of Westminster Cathedral Choir is electrifying' (The Guardian)
'Performances throughout are exceptionally fine and the recorded sound radiantly atmospheric' (Gramophone)
'A sublime disc' (BBC Music Magazine)
'Outstanding performances. Gaudeamus in loci pace is a breath-catching bonus' (HMV Choice)
'Long life to James MacMillan and a plentiful supply of pens and ink' (Fanfare, USA)
'A striking issue well worth the investment of all interested in recent choral literature' (American Record Guide)
A child's prayer [3'42]
The major work on this recording is the Mass. This was commissioned by Westminster Cathedral and was first performed on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 2000. MacMillan has chosen vernacular text rather than the Latin Mass and builds on the tradition of modern vernacular choral settings espoused by Britten with his Missa Brevis, also written for Westminster Cathedral.
Gaudeamus in loci pace is the first substantial organ work in MacMillan's output and appears to also have a connection with the Cathedral in that it was written for the Scottish organist Joseph Cullen, a former Assistant Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral. Many of the pieces on this recording have been commissioned by well-known choirs such as St Paul's Cathedral and King's College, Cambridge. The singing throughout is of the great standard we have come to expect from this choir. The use of soaring treble lines (such as in Christus vincit) is particularly special. This is the first recording of Westminster under their new Master of Music, Martin Baker.
All of the works are premiere recordings and the disc is sure to be popular with followers of James MacMillan's music and The Choir of Westminster Cathedral alike.
Most of MacMillan’s choral music was written during the last decade of the twentieth century. Yet in its nature it extends back to his roots, and in particular to his long-held Catholic beliefs. The Mass on this disc, written for Westminster Cathedral, is one of three Mass settings by MacMillan, although it is the only one written for a professional choir. The St Anne Mass (1985, revised 1996) is a congregational setting with optional choir parts, and the Galloway Mass (1996) has some simple choral writing, but can also be performed with a solo cantor. Many of MacMillan’s other choral works have a religious basis to them. Among his early choral pieces, Beatus Vir, a setting of Psalm 112, was written in 1983 for the Norwich Festival of Contemporary Church Music.
But the 1990s brought the greatest number of choral works, including all the works in this collection apart from the Mass. In the same decade came Catherine’s Lullabies (1992), which brings together texts from several diverse religious sources, from Isaiah and Ecclesiasticus, to the Creed, the Magnificat and the Litany of Saints, and Cantos Sagrados (1990) which sprang from the composer’s interest in liberation theology in a synthesis of apparently secular poems with traditional religious texts. Other works, such as Divo Aloysio Sacrum (1991), Here in Hiding (1993), Seven Last Words from the Cross (1994), On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (1997) and the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (2000) also spring from his intense interest in religious ideas and, like the works on this disc, are informed by his own Christian faith. One work from the 1999 Proms season, his vast symphonic cantata Quickening, included a significant part written for the choristers of Westminster Cathedral Choir, who sang from a high gallery at its first performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
MacMillan knows that his background will divide, and that while some will be drawn closer, others will be pushed away by the religious underpinning of so much of his choral work. ‘But’, he says, ‘I don’t believe any composer can write in an ideological or temperamental vacuum. You have got to be able to respond to something innate in your psychology, otherwise it has no personal integrity.’ If ever there were a piece with personal integrity, it is MacMillan’s Westminster Cathedral Mass.
James Whitbourn © 2001