RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
There is a tantalising moment where the choir effectively slides out of sight while the violins swarm up in a haze of fluttering torment
Marc Rochester is overwhelmed by The Sixteen’s account of James MacMillan’s moving and deeply personal new setting of the Stabat mater
MacMillan Stabat mater The Sixteen; Britten Sinfonia / Harry Christophers Coro F COR16150 (60’ • DDD • T/t)
In their separate but extremely effusive booklet essays, both Harry Christophers and the work’s dedicatee, John Studzinski, describe James MacMillan’s Stabat mater as a ‘masterpiece’. There is much on this CD to substantiate that claim, but without doubt the work’s impact is immeasurably heightened by the exceptional performance it receives here from the same forces which gave its world premiere in the Barbican last October.
The work owes its existence to the longstanding relationship between The Sixteen and James MacMillan. In 2001 the first ever new commission from The Sixteen was MacMillan’s O bone Jesu, and eight years later they gave the first-performance of his Miserere. On top of that, Christophers (the dedicatee of the Miserere) clearly has huge admiration for MacMillan’s sacred works, writing that ‘James ranks amongst a trio of truly great composers of sacred music, the other two being Tomás Luis de Victoria and Francis Poulenc’. Christophers’s adoration of MacMillan’s
12 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017
‘A truly great composer of sacred music’ – Harry Christophers on James MacMillan
Stabat mater radiates out of every moment of this compelling performance.
Along with John Studzinski and his Genesis Foundation, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen have been encouraging living composers to set the Stabat mater on the grounds that, although it is one of the most powerful of all liturgical poems, it seems to have fallen out of favour in recent times. They point to just two notable settings from the 20th century, by Szymanowski and Poulenc. Three 21st-century composers with very different musical outlooks were invited to contribute settings, with MacMillan serving as a kind of composer-mentor, and the project culminated with MacMillan’s own extended setting of the text.
As you would expect from a composer whose Catholicism is such a powerful force in his creative process, this is a deeply personal PH O T O G R A P H Y
G A T W A R D
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