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MORE MACMILLAN

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James MacMillan's new
Evening Canticles for choir and organ
have just been premièred at Winchester.
RODERIC DUNNETT talks to
the cathedral organist, David Hill

 

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'The Nunc Dimittis is distinct, and markedly different from the Magnificat. For instance, in the Nunc James makes use of those quickly embellished notes which also feature in his music elsewhere. It's not the same as Tavener - with Tavener it's audibly Eastern Orthodox in origin, whereas with James I suspect it stems from quite a different source - almost certainly the Scottish influence, and the Celtic chant which he has known since boyhood.

'He certainly harks back to these in the Nunc, but in quite a full-blooded way : he wants it represented in double or even triple unison (SAT) so you get a very sonorous effect. The basses are very low, it's almost as if he wants them to be singing in another place, a different plane, another sound world from all the rest of the choir - I don't know what imagery exactly he had in mind, but it certainly feels like a sort of contrasting image of heaven and earth.

'Again here James keeps the organ part independent from the voices : instead it creates a counterpoint which allows the lines to convey their message highly effectively. Then halfway through, at the words 'To be a light to lighten the Gentiles', it suddenly breaks out of this quasi-Byzantine, quasi-Celtic idiom, whatever one calls it. It's almost as if the 2nd part is written by another composer. That's not a a criticism, rather the opposite : it's very imposing. Similarly the doxology, with its quite elaborate clustering, is very different again. The changes in harmony and texture in the piece are actually very challenging : they might even be disturbing for some worshippers, though in a way that is most likely to provoke thought and inspire.'

Copyright © 20 July 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

 

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MACMILLAN'S NEW MASS

READ BASIL RAMSEY'S REVIEW OF
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