Choral level of difficulty: 4 (5 greatest)
This motet was commissioned in 2016 as a memorial to three members of the Nickson family and premiered by the Exultate Singers conducted by David Ogden. MacMillan chose another well-known text set in Latin by Palestrina and English by Herbert Howells: ‘Like as the deer (hart) longs for the springs of flowing water, so longs my soul for you, O God’. His setting is for double choir where one choir sings the text in Latin and the other in English (translated by Susan Pontin). The beauty of this macaronic approach is the clarity it brings to the text as well as the completely different sounds of the words in each language which brings additional colour.
MacMillan’s starting point is the ‘flow’ of the water. He creates an almost seamless flow of quavers (eighths) and some beautiful textural subtleties. Effective, too, is a section where the first choir repeats the word ‘water’ three times almost as if the parched soul is crying out for refreshment. Soon after this, ‘ita desiderat (anima mea) – so longs my soul’ has a powerfully passionate build up. The final pages, marked ecstatic, sees the choirs flinging demi-semiquaver (32nds) runs around before coming to an almost exhausted conclusion.
This is not an easy work to perform and will probably be best undertaken by high-achieving amateur choirs, small chamber choirs and, of course, professionals. It is a work which will live in the memory after it has been mastered and is eminently worth the hard work which may be needed to perfect it.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer