Gospel of St Luke 2: 9-14 (E)
St Paul's Church, Birmingham
Ex Cathedra / Jeffrey Skidmore
Choral level of difficulty: 5 (5 greatest)
This piece inhabits a wonderfully imaginative sound-world. It was commissioned by Ex Cathedra, the Birmingham-based chamber choir conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore for its 40th anniversary. The choir had also commissioned Alex Roth for a 40-part motet to partner the famous Tallis work. MacMillan, too, therefore wrote a multi-part work which at one point splits into seventeen parts. There are basically three choirs of SATB and for most of the motet choir three has two soprano parts (on separate staves). Divisi in other parts come and go. This is therefore a very challenging work and includes substantial humming passages which are always problematical for blend and balance against the other parts singing words. The textures created, however, are magical and the piece grows in volume and intensity to the beginning of the final section after a general pause and subsides to a quiet ending.
For MacMillan aficionados the music contains very familiar ingredients which will undoubtedly speed up the learning process. For others, the chant-like ornamental melodies need care and a balance between accuracy of detail and a sense of musical line. The ornaments, grace notes and quick turns should never impede the flow of melody.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer