John Quinn wrote a detailed and enthusiastic review of the album when it appeared in 2005, describing it as an unqualified success: Recording of the Month. I have to admit that I have not yet come to terms with MacMillan’s music as I have with that of John Tavener but performances as sympathetic as these have done as much to convert me as any that I have heard.
I found myself engaging with his Tenebræ on Linn CKD301 (now re-numbered as BKD301) and was also impressed by his St John Passion (LSO Live LSO0671)—both reviewed in May 2009. The Seven Last Words have a similar hypnotic intensity: harshness mingled with beauty. (Try track 2, Woman behold thy Son).
There is beauty, too, in the setting of Jeremy Taylor’s poem on the Annunciation. I haven’t heard the rival recordings from The Sixteen or New College Choir but I doubt that they convey the quality of this almost timeless setting better than Polyphony.
This was the first and remains the only recording of the Te Deum, a setting of the words from the Book of Common Prayer commissioned for the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London in the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, but, as Paul Spicer notes in the booklet, completely free from any baggage of Anglican musical history. Where most settings of this canticle in English or Latin burst into praise from the word go, MacMillan starts and ends ethereally and contemplatively. It might seem a treatment better reserved for the evening canticles, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, but it works surprisingly well.All in all this Hyperion SACD prompts me to explore MacMillan much more than I have, starting with two other recordings on this label from Wells Cathedral Choir (CDA67867: review – from hyperion-records.co.uk, CD, mp3 and lossless download) and Westminster Cathedral Choir (CDA67219 – from hyperion-records.co.uk, CD, mp3 and lossless download). This is a composer whose music needs and deserves to be absorbed with repeated hearings.