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MacMillan: Visitatio Sepulchri, Busqueda / MacMillan, Scottish CO

Release Date: 08/30/1998 
Label:  Catalyst   Catalog #: 62669   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  James MacMillan
Performer:  Ruth AndersonAnna BentleyCharlotte SpinkJuliet Stevenson
Conductor:  James MacMillan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length:  1 Hours  9 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

One brief but significant moment in the PassionResurrection narrative forms the basis of James MacMillan's "sacred opera" Visitatio Sepulchri. Standing before the empty tomb, a group of women disciples ask what has become of the body of Jesus. Angels answer them: "He is not here. He is risen." In MacMillan's setting this action is almost frozen by the slow, hieratic delivery and quasi-liturgical repetition. Before it comes a substantial orchestral prelude; afterwards, there's a full setting of the Te Deum.

But if this leads you to expect Tavener-like hypnotic austerity, you're in for a salutary awakening. MacMillan's score is dense with activity, the style wildly and wonderfully eclectic. After an
Read more explosive opening—scurrying strings, rapid gunfire from brass and percussion, Birtwistle-like growlings in the bass—the texture gradually melts into something like the keening polyphony and luminous modal harmonies of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie. And this time MacMillan doesn't simply swerve from style to style: he layers his textures like Ives—the impression is of a teeming internal drama, so rich and vital that it is hardly able to contain itself.

I think I'm beginning to understand why some musical sophisticates still resist MacMillan. It isn't just that he's so eclectic—it's the fact that he gets away with it. Many composers might have thought of the glorious, unashamed E major resolution at the emotional height of the coda, but few would have had the nerve to write it, let alone the radiant diatonic tune that goes with it. I'd found Visitatio Sepulchri pretty compelling up till then, but at this point the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. However fascinating, gripping, challenging, contemporary music may be, it isn't often that it makes direct human contact like this. The performers must take their share of the credit of course: MacMillan pushes his voices hard, and occasionally the strain shows, and yet the intensity suggests real conviction on everyone's part; the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Ivor Bolton play as though they enjoyed every moment.

I haven't left myself much space for Busqueda, written five years earlier in 1988. The nature of the commission—to write a companion piece for Berio's Laborintus II—has left its mark on the style, which hovers between modernist collage and a more dramatic, more recognizably MacMillanlike mixture. Again the image of the Cross and the Passion is central, though this time there is a direct political comparison—with the sufferings of the Argentinian "Mothers of the Disappeared", and by implication all those whose loved ones have been claimed by paranoically suspicious autocracy the world over. The piece is not musically selfsufficient in the way Visitatio Sepulchri obviously is—you need to follow the text; but with Juliet Stevenson to take you through it, that's no problem. Both pieces are intimately recorded, giving an especially vivid, immediate sound-impression in Visitatio Sepulchri; I certainly enjoyed being plunged into the textures-just don't stand too close to your speakers at the opening.

-- Gramophone [4/1995]
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Works on This Recording

Búsqueda by James MacMillan
Performer:  Ruth Anderson (Soprano), Anna Bentley (Soprano), Charlotte Spink (Soprano),
Juliet Stevenson (Speaker)
Conductor:  James MacMillan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1988 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  Caird Hall, Dundee 
Visitatio sepulchri by James MacMillan
Performer:  Roger Bryson (Baritone), Olivia Blackburn (Soprano), Christine Bunning (Mezzo soprano),
Tamsin Dives (Mezzo soprano), Rupert Oliver Forbes (Singer), Alan Oke (Baritone),
Stephen Richardson (Bass)
Conductor:  Ivor Bolton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1993 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  Caird Hall, Dundee 

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