MacMILLAN Miserere. Strathclyde motets. O bone Jesu
Dedicated to Harry Christophers, who directed The Sixteen in the first performance at the Flanders Festival in August 2009, Miserere is the latest product of a close relationship that has grown up over the past decade between these performers and James MacMillan. The Sixteen’s uniquely warm and graceful sound certainly seems to have tapped a particularly timeless and atmospheric vein in MacMillan’s creative persona and he has here presented them with something which tests not so much their collective virtuosity as their most profound musical instincts.
The huge popularity of Allegri’s 1638 setting of the Miserere for the Sistine Chapel – which The Sixteen recorded very early on in their history – has tended to cast a shadow over subsequent settings of this text. It certainly has done so here; and while MacMillan’s seems to inhabit a very different harmonic world in its opening stages, before long it, too, falls into the Allegri sequence of simple plainchant and interpolated episodes. No celestial high Cs here but something much more chorally unified and harmonically rich – and every bit as effective. The vocal lines, shrouded in a halo of incense-laden atmosphere, are delivered with wonderful fluidity, the sense of organic growth as the verses branch out from their plainchant roots beautifully conveyed, the choral tone warm and comforting and the overall sound profoundly beautiful.
Every bit as effective but requiring considerably more virtuosity, the extracts from MacMillan’s earlier Strathclyde Motets and Tenebrae Responsories offer an opportunity to savour just what a superb choir The Sixteen are, and their especial affinity with this music heightens the impact of these powerful performances.
This disc bears testament to a rare and wonderful relationship between composer, choir and conductor. Long may it continue.