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Macmillan: Visitatio Sepulchri / Antunes, Macmillan

Macmillian / Netherlands Radio Choir / Antunes
Release Date: 05/25/2010 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1719  
Composer:  James MacMillan
Conductor:  Celso AntunesJames MacMillan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio ChoirNetherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MACMILLAN Visitatio Sepulchri. 1 Sun-Dogs 2 1 James MacMillan, 2 Celso Antunes, conds; 1,2 Netherlands RCh and 1 ChPhil BIS SACD 1719 (SACD: 67:02 Text and Translation)

The major work, Read more dating from 1992–93, has only been recorded once, when Ivor Bolton conducted it for that idiosyncratic BMG label Catalyst right after the premiere ( Fanfare 19:4). Preceding it on the disc is a new work under a Brazilian conductor who has been active in Ireland and Western Europe. Visitatio Sepulchri was originally written for seven solo singers and chamber orchestra. This new performance has been arranged for seven-part chorus and chamber orchestra, and the result to my ears is an improvement in texture. The work is in three scenes starting with an orchestral movement. The second scene draws the few lines of dialogue in the Medieval Easter play out for 10 to 12 minutes (the opening question, Quem quaeritis? , is repeated three times), then closes quickly with the Easter sequence, Victimae paschali laudes . The final scene, as long as the other two, is the hymn of thanksgiving, Te Deum. The word settings are highly original with solid support from the orchestral textures. I don’t understand why the singers in both recordings mispronounce “numerus” in the Te Deum; since it rhymes with “exercitus” in the next line, it would be so much easier to get it right. I’m grateful for the careful proofreading of the texts, which were carelessly printed in the Catalyst booklet. For sensitivity, one word was changed in Victimae paschali laudes.

Dating from 2006, Sun-Dogs , like a number of MacMillan’s compositions, sets the poetry of Michael Symmons Roberts, who provided the libretto for his opera The Sacrifice (33:6). The five poems focus on dogs in enigmatic ways—symbolic texts that are complex, even ambiguous. MacMillan’s skill in unaccompanied choral writing turns them into something more as he requires all sorts of effects from the singers. The notes assume that there is a religious context to the poems (the work was dedicated to the Dominican order), but it is explicit only in the fourth poem with its citation of the Eucharist. The dynamic range is extreme, and surround sound is incorporated into the presentation. Celso Antunes is the chorusmaster of this familiar choral organization, conducting this work as well as preparing the singers for the major work. It seems odd that, given the traditional texts of the major work and the peculiar poems of this one, I find that MacMillan has found more grateful musical expression for the latter. Perhaps it demonstrates his maturity. This is a composer who is living up to the promise that was evident when he first became prominent two decades ago.

FANFARE: J. F. Weber
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Works on This Recording

Sun-Dogs by James MacMillan
Conductor:  Celso Antunes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Choir
Written: 2006 
Visitatio sepulchri by James MacMillan
Conductor:  James MacMillan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra,  Netherlands Radio Choir
Written: 1993 

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