Saturday, May 03, 2008


Last weekend I did get to see Birtwistle's Punch and Judy, I'm glad to report. But sadly I had to miss the World Premiere of James Macmillan's St John Passion at the Barbican Hall, London, on 27 April 2008. It featured Christopher Maltman (baritone) and the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Colin Davis - to whom the work is dedicated. I can't wait to hear it next time I get the opportunity.

In his programme note, Macmillan writes: "After writing my Seven Last Words from the Cross in 1993, I always knew that the inevitable next step would be a setting of one of the Gospel Passion narratives. It has since been my ambition to tackle such a project. I decided on St John's text, as it is the version with which I am most intimately acquainted, hearing it recited or sung every Good Friday in the Catholic liturgy. In fact, since my student days in Edinburgh I have regularly participated in the Gregorian or Dominican chanting of the Crucifixion story on that day. This simple music has had an overriding influence on the shape and character of my own Passion setting."


Anonymous said...

I used to be a great admirer of MacMillan and never missed a premiere. This piece is worryingly kitsch. The whole idiom sounds a century out of date musically - this is Walton's Belshazzar with a thin layer of modern varnish. I was horribly disappointed and deflated by it.

He now sounds most convincing when imitating someone else or borrowing a mode of music from history. When he is simply being James MacMillan the music veers horribly between the banal and the violent in an attempt to conjure up some personality.

I may sound like a MacMillan hater, but believe me I loved his music for many years. It's just that this was weak - after you stripped away the borrowings, the near-constant violence of the first half, and the surface decorations, you were left with something a century out of date, and dreadfully lacking for ideas.

Simon Barrow said...

Some reviews have shared your view. Others have taken the piece as a passionate invocation drawing on resources from the past and reworking them. I'll reserve judgement.