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Sir James MacMillan (b1959)

Mass & other sacred music

Westminster Cathedral Choir, Martin Baker (conductor) Detailed performer information
Label: Hyperion
Recording details: July 2000
Westminster Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: April 2001
Total duration: 64 minutes 23 seconds

Cover artwork: Photograph by Dorothy Burrows.
E & E Picture Library
Please note that physical copies of this album purchased from our website come as CD-R copies rather than commercially pressed CDs. Booklets and other packaging are as normal.

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.




‘Powerful liturgical music from one of today's most admired composers, performed with passionate intensity … performances throughout are exceptionally fine and the recorded sound radiantly atmospheric’ (Gramophone)

‘A sublime disc’ (BBC Music Magazine)

‘A striking issue well worth the investment of all interested in recent choral literature’ (American Record Guide)

‘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)

‘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)

‘Long life to James MacMillan and a plentiful supply of pens and ink’ (Fanfare, USA)

‘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)

‘Outstanding performances. Gaudeamus in loci pace is a breath-catching bonus’ (HMV Choice)

‘A programme of exceptional quality and interest, which no genuine lover of cathedral music should ignore’ (Cathedral Music)

‘From the moment this CD begins, the senses tingle with the magical, spiritual nature of the music’ (Sunday Herald, Scotland)
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

La musique chorale de MacMillan a été essentiellement composée au cours de la dernière décennie du XXe siècle. Pourtant, de par sa nature, ses racines puisent à des sources bien plus anciennes et s’imprègnent en particulier de ses convictions catholiques professées depuis longtemps. Ecrite pour la Cathédrale de Westminster, la Messe présente sur ce disque est la seule parmi les trois de MacMillan à être destinée à un chœur professionnel. La Messe Ste Anne (1985, révision 1996) est une pièce conçue pour l’assemblée avec des parties chorales facultatives, tandis que la Messe Galloway (1996) s’illustre par la simplicité de son écriture chorale et peut tout aussi bien être exécutée par un chantre soliste. La plupart des autres œuvres chorales de MacMillan souscrivent également à une inspiration religieuse. Parmi les plus anciennes figure un Beatus Vir sur le Psaume 112, écrit pour l’édition 1983 du Festival de Musique sacrée contemporaine de Norwich.

Les années 1990 assistèrent cependant à l’éclosion de la majorité de ses compositions pour chœur comme en témoignent toutes les œuvres de ce disque à l’exception toutefois de la Messe. Réunissant des textes de plusieurs sources liturgiques, de Esaïe et Ecclésiaste aux Credo, Magnificat et Litanies des Saints, Catherine’s Lullabies (1992) date de cette période tout comme Cantos Sagrados (1990) né de l’intérêt porté par le compositeur à la théologie de la libération et réalisant une synthèse de poèmes séculaires en apparence et de textes religieux traditionnels. D’autres ouvrages comme Divo Aloysio Sacrum (1991), Here in Hiding (1993), Seven Last Words from the Cross (1994), On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (1997) et Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (2000) ont également jailli de son vif intérêt pour les idées religieuses. A l’image des œuvres que l’on pourra découvrir sur ce disque, ils attestent de sa propre foi chrétienne.

MacMillan n’est pas sans savoir que sa démarche personnelle ne fera pas l’unanimité et que si certains en seront confortés d’autres seront repoussés par le contexte religieux qui sous-tend une grande partie de son répertoire choral. «Mais je ne crois pas qu’un compositeur puisse écrire dans un vide idéologique ou identitaire», souligne-t-il. «Il faut être capable de répondre à quelque chose d’inhérent à sa psychologie, sinon il n’y a aucune intégrité personnelle.» Si une œuvre possède une intégrité personnelle, c’est bien la Messe que MacMillan écrivit pour la Cathédrale de Westminster.

James Whitbourn © 2001
Français: Isabelle Battioni

Der größte Teil von MacMillans Chormusik ist im letzten Jahrzehnt des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts entstanden. Vom Charakter her geht sie jedoch auf seine Wurzeln zurück, insbesondere auf den katholischen Glauben, der ihn seit langem prägt. Die vorliegende Messe, geschrieben für die Kathedrale von Westminster, ist eine von drei Messevertonungen MacMillans, allerdings die einzige, die für einen professionellen Chor geschrieben ist. Die St. Anne’s Mass (1985, 1996 überarbeitet) ist eine Vertonung für Gemeindegesang mit Chorstimmen ad libitum, und die Galloway Mass (1996) hat einen schlichten Chorsatz, kann aber auch von einem Solokantor gesungen werden. Viele von MacMillans anderen Chorwerken haben ebenfalls eine religiöse Grundlage. Von seinen frühen Chorstücken ist Beatus Vir, eine Vertonung des 112. Psalms, 1983 für das Festival zeitgenössischer Kirchenmusik in Norwich entstanden.

Aber wie gesagt haben die 1990er Jahre die größte Zahl von Chorwerken mit sich gebracht, darunter außer der Messe alle Werke dieser Zusammenstellung. Im selben Jahrzehnt kam Catherine’s Lullabies (1992) heraus, worin Texte aus verschiedenen religiösen Quellen zusammengefaßt werden, von Jesaja und dem apokryphen Jesus Sirach bis hin zum Credo, zum Magnificat und zur Allerheiligen-Litanei, sowie Cantos Sagrados (1990), das dem Interesse des Komponisten an der Theologie der Befreiung entsprang und eine Synthese offenkundig weltlicher Gedichte und traditioneller religiöser Texte ist. Andere Werke wie Divo Aloysio Sacrum (1991), Here in Hiding (1993), Seven Last Words from the Cross (1994), On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (1997) und das Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (2000) erwachsen ebenfalls aus seinem eingehenden Interesse an religiösem Gedankengut und sind von seinem eigenen christlichen Glauben durchdrungen. Ein Werk für die Londoner Promenadenkonzerte 1999, die groß angelegte sinfonische Kantate Quickening, enthält einen umfangreichen Part für die Chorsänger des Westminster Cathedral Choir, die ihn bei der Uraufführung in der Royal Albert Hall von einer hohen Empore herab gesungen haben.

MacMillan ist sich darüber im klaren, daß man über seinen persönlichen Hintergrund geteilter Meinung sein kann und daß die religiösen Untertöne so vieler seiner Chorwerke einige näher heranbringen, andere dagegen abstoßen werden. „Aber ich glaube nicht“, sagt er dazu, „daß ein Komponist im ideologischen oder charakterlichen Vakuum arbeiten kann. Man muß in der Lage sein, auf etwas zu reagieren, das der eigenen Psyche innewohnt, sonst fehlt die persönliche Integrität.“ Wenn es je ein Stück gegeben hat, aus dem persönliche Integrität spricht, dann MacMillans Westminster Cathedral Mass.

James Whitbourn © 2001
Deutsch: Anne Steeb/Bernd Müller

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