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Hyperion Records

SACDA67460 - MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross & other choral works
Crucifixion (1995) by Craigie Aitchison
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
SACDA67460

Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: August 2005
Total duration: 67 minutes 47 seconds

'MacMillan has a tremendous gift for making the simple resonate; the 2001 Te Deum, a first recording, shows he also knows just how to freshen an ageing choral tradition. Some fantastic singing here; and glorious music' (The Times)

'James MacMillan's work is informed by his Catholic faith, but rarely has he communicated his spiritual message as effectively as in this large-scale piece. Perhaps Haydn's example has forced him to raise his game, or maybe it was the heartrending text: either way, this is a modern choral masterpiece, and Stephen Layton and his forces its ideal interpreters' (The Independent)

'In an ideal world, Hyperion's August disc of the month would sell by the truckload. The sheer quality of James MacMillan's Seven Last Words, the intensity of Stephen Layton's interpretation and the unrestrained, heartfelt performances of Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia should guarantee critical acclaim' (Music Week)

'an intense, deeply felt interpretation, full of beautiful and affecting singing, with all the elements—string orchestra, featured violin, choir and soloists—nicely balanced … As ever, MacMillan incorporates all his allusions, including those to Scottish traditional music, into an utterly individual style. The performance confirms Polyphony's place in the front rank of choirs' (Gramophone)

'This splendid new performance from Polyphony also conveys dignity, and a sense (hard to explain) that the suffering is, in some mysterious way, redemptive. Easier to quantify, the singing is also remarkably secure technically, the ensemble near perfect. Beautiful, powerful playing too from the Britten Sinfonia' (BBC Music Magazine)

'… the qualities which have made Polyphony one of the finest choirs around at the moment are very much in evidence in these assured and perceptive performances. James Vivian's organ accompaniments are perfectly balanced and the overall recorded sound is exquisite. All told, this disc offers a mesmerising listening experience' (International Record Review)

'This stunning work, brilliantly performed by Stephen Layton's chamber choir Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia, is something no serious lover of choral music should be without' (Birmingham Post)

'If you've heard them and followed the laudatory press they've gotten worldwide, you already know that this [Polyphony] is one of the world's truly great chamber choirs. Layton always gets breathtaking beauty of tone from them, as well as exquisite interpretive and dynamic nuances. They bring Macmillan's compelling sound-world to life more vibrantly than any other choir I've heard his music from. Organist Vivian and the Britten Sinfonia supply excellent support, and Hyperion seals the bargain with rich, clean SA sound that's a joy to hear' (American Record Guide)

Seven Last Words from the Cross & other choral works

Hyperion’s Record of the Month for August by Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Stephen Layton portrays the ultimate dramatic event in history—the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, expressed through the raw emotional power of one of Scotland’s most distinguished and vital composers, James MacMillan.

His Seven Last Words from the Cross, first commissioned and screened by the BBC in 1994, depicts the final seven short sentences Jesus uttered, from the mesmerizing opening cadences to the final disturbing hammer-blows of the nails being driven into Christ’s hands and feet, leaving the listener to wonder at one of the choral masterpieces of our time.

Many years ago the same choir recorded this work on the BMG Catalyst label—the recording was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize. Now ten years later their interpretation has developed and proves that Polyphony has risen to rank amongst the world’s finest professional choirs.

Also presented on this disc are two premier recordings by the same composer. On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin for five-part choir and organ was written for the choir of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge in 1997 and is set to the stunning poetry about transformation by the seventeenth-century poet Jeremy Taylor; the Te Deum was written in 2001 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. In both works we have much of the essential MacMillan to savour making this issue indispensable for followers of both MacMillan and Polyphony.

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