for 16-part choir a cappella
Evan Maccoll, trans James MacMillan (E)
This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.
St John's Smith Square, London
BBC Singers / Bo Holten
Màiri adapts the translated text of a Gaelic elegy by Evan Maccoll (1808-98). The choir is devided into many parts and the approach is colouristic and impressionistic while maintaining the essential lamenting, keening character of the text. The use, in places, of drones, pentatonic harmonies and a certain shaping of melodic line suggests a perceptible influence of ancient Celtic music.
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
Choral level of difficulty: 5 (5 greatest)
This beautiful unaccompanied work adapts the translated text of a Gaelic elegy by the 19th century poet Evan Maccoll. The words ‘She has gone’ dominate the piece (they begin each verse) and underline its sense of desolation. MacMillan stretches his vocal forces to their limits with basses droning pedal points as low as C sharp and sopranos being led up to top E flats which diminuendo! The piece ends with a piano top C sharp for sopranos. This is not a work for the faint-hearted, and yet, as always, there is so much here beyond these practical challenges. It is a beautiful, mesmerizing, atmospheric work which contrasts the stillness of slow-moving voices interspersed with bouts of frenetic activity generated by florid ornamentation. The composer points to ‘pentatonic harmonies and a certain shaping of melodic line (which) suggests a perceptible influence of ancient Celtic music’. It is the almost atavistic nature of this music that draws one into its world and induces a kind of trance-like state.
Excellent choirs with a sense of ambition and professional groups will want to explore this work. Having done so it will stay with them.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / BBC Singers / John Scott
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