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James MacMillan: new choral recordings on Coro and Linn

(December 2011)

New recordings of James MacMillan's choral music, sung by The Sixteen and Cappella Nova, feature his Miserere and the latest collection of Strathclyde Motets.

The growing discography for James MacMillan's choral output, has expanded further with two major new releases. The Sixteen's latest disc on the Coro label (COR 16096) includes MacMillan's Miserere which the group premiered in 2009 at the Flanders Festival, conducted by Harry Christophers. This prayerful a cappella piece moves in its 10-minute span from dark guilt to radiant optimism. It sets the penitential text from Psalm 51 used by Josquin, Palestrina, Gesualdo, Lassus and most famously by Allegri, offering choirs a range of programming couplings with the MacMillan.

> Listen to a soundclip of Miserere

The Sixteen's disc also includes its earlier MacMillan commission, O Bone Jesu, an eight-part  motet often paired by ambitious chamber choirs with the 19-part Renaissance setting of the same words by his fellow-Scot Robert Carver. A selection of the Strathclyde Motets leads up to MacMillan's powerful Tenebrae Responsories, here receiving its second recording. The Sixteen has programmed MacMillan's works widely: as Harry Christophers notes in the CD booklet "Wherever we go, be it in the UK, USA or Europe, and whenever one of his compositions is in the programme, surrounded by other great composers, it is always James MacMillan's works that have had the greatest effect on the audience. That says it all."

Cappella Nova, conducted by Alan Tavener, can be heard on a new Linn recording of MacMillan's music with first recordings of the complete second set of Strathclyde Motets and the Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman (Linn CKD 383). The new CD, entitled Who are these Angels?, after his 2009 motet for voices and string quartet also on the disc, follows upon the group's successful earlier MacMillan recording of the Tenebrae Responsories and the first set of Strathclyde Motets (Linn CKD 301).

The Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman was composed in 2010, commissioned for Pope Benedict's visit to the UK in September of that year, and heard for the first time at the open air Masses in Glasgow and Birmingham. It was the first-ever setting of the new English translation of the Mass text, currently being implemented by English-speaking congregations. Scored for cantor, congregation and organ, the Mass has an optional SATB chorus as heard on the Cappella Nova disc, with further options employing brass and timpani for festive or outdoor celebrations.

In addition to the Strathclyde Motets and the Mass, Cappella Nova's new disc includes a selection of MacMillan's recently published smaller-scale choral works dating from 2009-10. As with the Tenebrae disc, the CD booklet contains an interview between James MacMillan and Rebecca Tavener detailing aspects of the choral works, here exploring the links between Who are these Angels? and the three unexpected visitors in his opera Clemency, and the intriguing Wagnerian motivic references in the Mass.

Future MacMillan highlights include the premiere of his new Gloria at Coventry Cathedral on 23 June, commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the consecration of the new cathedral - a major symbol of rebirth for the city and nation after the bombing raids and destruction of the war. The new 20-minute work is scored for tenor soloist, SATB chorus, children's choir, organ, brass and timpani, and the first performance features soloist Ian Bostridge with the composer conducting members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Saint Michael's Singers and a children's choir drawn from Coventry schools. The Gloria premiere forms part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

> Further information on Work: Miserere

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