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Two major works by James MacMillan receive their premiere recordings on a new Coro disc featuring The Sixteen and Britten Sinfonia under Harry Christophers: Symphony No.5: Le grand Inconnu and The Sun Danced.

The latest disc on The Sixteen’s Coro label features new recordings of James MacMillan’s Symphony No.5: Le grand Inconnu and The Sun Danced (COR16179). Harry Christophers conducts The Sixteen, Genesis Sixteen and Britten Sinfonia in these premiere recordings taken live from the Barbican in London in October 2019. This latest collaboration between James MacMillan and The Sixteen follows the choir’s creation of works including O Bone Jesu, Miserere, Stabat Mater and O Virgo prudentissima, all recorded on Coro, and close to 300 performances of his works to date.

> Listen to an audio clip of Symphony No.5: 'Le grand Inconnu
> Buy the recording from Coro

The world premiere of MacMillan’s choral symphony, exploring the mystery of the Holy Spirit - the ‘great unknown’ - was given at the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2019 by Christophers and The Sixteen to a standing ovation and rave reviews, as the finale of a 60th birthday celebration of the composer’s music. The Times commented that the work is “likely to join MacMillan epics such as St John Passion and Stabat Mater in gripping the ears, spearing the heart and moving the soul… The world needs more composers like MacMillan: powerful, communicative composers who never hide where they come from, what they believe in, or what they feel.”

Harry Christophers writes: ‘By calling his new Symphony ‘Le grand Inconnu’ James has given himself that freedom to explore the mystery of the subject matter and, with repeated listening, we, the listener, discover more and more within the music… From the barely audible breathing at the start of the symphony to the first forte that is so sudden and ecstatic that it produces one of those heart pounding moments. Everything is drawn together by James into a cornucopia of sheer virtuosity and brilliance.’

Symphony No.5: ‘Le grand Inconnu’ was commissioned by Genesis Foundation for Harry Christophers and The Sixteen. The Genesis Foundation is Europe’s largest commissioner of sacred choral music and MacMillan’s choral symphony is the 22nd commission for Christophers and The Sixteen. Over the last decade this partnership has resulted in commissions from 14 composers, as well as six albums on the CORO label and the first ever live-streamed concert from The Sistine Chapel.

The Sun Danced for soprano, choir and orchestra was composed by MacMillan in 2016 and commissioned by the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal for the 2017 centennial celebration of the Apparitions of Fatima. Imagine a vision too wondrous for eyes alone – ‘the lady more brilliant than the sun’. ‘The lady’ is the Virgin Mary, and The Sun Danced is an ecstatic choral celebration of the Miracle of Fatima. Mary Bevan is the featured soprano, recorded live at the work’s UK premiere in 2019.

The composer describes how "the miraculous events made this unremarkable little Portuguese town famous throughout the world, and provided the focus of an amazing ongoing spiritual phenomenon. The texts are taken from the Apparitions of the Angel and of Our Lady, and also from documented verbal expressions from members of the crowd present at the Miracle of the Sun.

> Listen to an audio clip of The Sun Danced

>  Further information on Work: Symphony No.5: 'Le grand Inconnu'

Photo: Marc Marnie

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