Category Archives: composers

James MacMillan

Recently I heard for the first time the work of composer James MacMillan. Apparently he is one of the most prolific composers of our time, but so far I hadn’t heard of him. The introduction came when I picked up a Westminster Cathedral Choir‘s recording of some of his sacred pieces at my local library. Immediately I was hooked and found myself sitting in that imposing building once more, transported to a different world, evoked by an atmosphere of prayer, of otherworldliness, of something larger than life itself.  His writing reminds me of Britten in the adventurous colours and inventive musicality, and Tavener, because it’s so deeply religious. It helps that MacMillan is a Roman Catholic, just as I am, but I am positive even atheists can feel what I just described.

One of my favourite pieces on this recording is Christus Vincit. There is something about the solo treble part that gets me everytime, I can feel it in my stomach and then it sort of clenches my throat. The soloist suddenly flies free, and takes a swooping dive, pauses and then reaches a breathtaking height, and a second later his fellow choristers are there to carry him on their wings, and join him in glorious praises.  And then, at the end, the same solo line, but now completely solo – the final note flies away into the unknown, on the wings of Alleluia.

Earlier this week, I picked up Wells Cathedral Choir‘s new MacMillan recording (with Matthew Owens as director and Jonathan Vaughn at the organ) and I knew I couldn’t be wrong. One of the best cathedral choirs in the world,  singing a wide range of the repertoire from my new musical love. And I was swept away also this time. Some pieces are breathtaking and Wells sings so powerfully and self-assured. It’s often dark and heavy, even when it’s serene, yet at the same time there is such pleasure in painting with sounds that it’s anything but dreary and sombre. To describe the whole disc would take too much space for this post, so I will just let this YouTube video I made speak for itself. It features two pieces, one for treble solo (sung here by William de Chazal) and organ, and one for unaccompanied choir with each vocal group split in two sections. Prepare for 14 minutes of awe…