JAMES MACMILLAN (b.1959): St. Luke Passion.
Catalogue Number: 06Q088
Label: Challenge Classics
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: MacMillan's previous Passion, setting St John, employed the usual soloists and focused on the human drama in quasi-operatic terms. St Luke is of especial interest to the composer because of the author's concern with the spiritual, the Kingdom of God, and his narrative scope, extending beyond the events of Jesus' life. This Gospel, set in the direct and lucid Revised Standard Edition with its dramatic dialogue and detailed narrative, lends itself ideally to musical treatment. The work is highly concentrated, with a classical-sized orchestra. The choral writing, while highly sophisticated and far from easy, avoids difficult vocal acrobatics and effects, and remains clearly tonal throughout. MacMillan always displays a sure sense of the ebb and flow of consonance and dissonance, and the more extreme divergences from tonal harmony are notably left to the orchestra and the important organ part. The work departs from the long tradition of Passion settings in several important ways; it is preceded by a dramatic prelude depicting the Annunciation, and followed by a postlude continuing the story to the Resurrection and Ascension, using texts from the Acts of the Apostles. Christ is sung by a boys' choir, often in three parts signifying the Trinity, emphasizing the innocence and 'otherness' of Christ, a luminous, ethereal sound. Like the figure of Jesus in Mediaeval art, a glowing halo of string and organ tone surrounds His words at key points in the drama, further distinguishing them from the earthier utterances of the other characters, who are represented by soloists and ensembles from the adult choir, often in a rich polyphonic fabric, creating some surprising harmonic results, typical of the mature composer's extended sense of tonality. The music ranges from liturgical solemnity to vigorously energetic drama - for instance, the episode in Gethsemane and that depicting the accusations brought againt Jesus and his condemnation to death has a thrilling dramatic momentum, as the tension rises, leading to a terrifying climax. By contrast, the crucifixion itself is set to music of devotional reverence and solemnity, Christ's final words again haloed in sound; even the climax that follows is massive and sombre, rather than hystrionically apocalyptic; MacMillan reserves that for the orchestral entr'acte that separates the Passion from the Epilogue. National Youth Choir, Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra; Markus Stenz.