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Spiritual mysteries

James MacMillan's music
for Westminster Cathedral -
considered by DAVID THOMPSON

'This is a great recording of what, I dare to suggest, will come to be recognised as great music.'

James MacMillan Mass and other sacred music (p) 2001 Hyperion Records Ltd


Not for a very long time has the discovery of new music so profoundly moved and excited me as the contents of this disc. The music, written by a devout Roman Catholic, mostly for use within that Church's liturgy is, all of it, imbued with a timeless spirituality that transports the receptive listener to an experience of eternity.

Have I finally gone over the top? Well, being myself a Christian of Catholic, sacramental persuasion, I did wonder how this affected my judgement. After all, the liner note does say, MacMillan knows that his background will divide, and that while some will be drawn closer, others will be pushed away by the religious underpinning of his choral work.

My solution was to invite the opinion of a close musical friend, who is an avowed atheist. He confessed himself knocked sideways by the experience, and declared his intention of acquiring a copy as soon as possible.

The main work here is the Mass, written for the Choir of Westminster Cathedral, and first performed on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2000. Usually, the setting is of the vernacular text, and MacMillan sets not only the Ordinary (minus the Creed), but also the Gospel Alleluia and the full Eucharistic Prayer with its seasonal Preface. Thus music informs the actual words of institutional and consecration the moments when the bread and wine become the sacramental mystery, the body and blood of Christ. But in these most sacred moments, MacMillan does not intrude or impose himself. Rather, he clothes the words with timeless plainsong-like melody underpinned with simple sustained organ chords. His music is the perfect genuflexion of faith demanded [listen -- track 7, 0:30-1:27].

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Copyright © 17 February 2002 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK







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