The words of the poem Seinte Mari moder milde
, from a thirteenth-century manuscript in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge, are offered new dramatic and lyrical power in MacMillan’s setting. It was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge, for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols and first performed on Christmas Eve, 1995. The work beautifully excites the chapel’s famous acoustic with its soaring high treble notes which are equally effective in the resonant space of Westminster Cathedral. After the opening phrase, the organ part is at once released from an accompanying role and given a freedom which adds to the spirit and forward motion of this work. The greatest sense of the unexpected is reserved for the end, when the texture moves quickly from the sonorous scoring of full organ and choir to a mesmeric duet for two solo trebles which leaves the piece hanging in impish suspense.
from notes by James Whitbourn © 2001