When Sir Colin Davis was asked to select a composer to write a new work for his 80th birthday he chose James MacMillan, about to celebrate his own 50th birthday. MacMillan had previously considered writing a passion and used the opportunity of the commission to produce a setting based on the Gospel of St John.The result is a highly dramatic passion, fusing MacMillan's own Catholic faith, compositional style and musical influences with the long tradition of settings for the passion of Christ in both the Catholic and Lutheran faiths. In addition to the choir and orchestra, MacMillan uses a small choir of professional singers to provide the narration and a solitary baritone soloist to portray Christus.The work received its première on 27th April 2008 at the Barbican, in London, and follows the LSOLive release of two of James MacMillan's earlier works: The World's Ransoming and The Confession of Isobel Gowdie in January 2008.
The Prague Philharmonic choir join over a dozen others who have recorded Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil, a work once thought the special property of the Russian choirs who are, of course, prominent in the lists. The Czechs sing it without a cantor, and more as a concert work than some of the others do. Though they take the famous scale in the Nunc dimittis, descending to a profound B flat, in their stride, they are not as sonorous as some others, and their particular contribution is to sing the music lightly and flexibly, with a lively response to the words. They have excellent sopranos, safe in intonation when attacking the exposed high entries in thirds which are a feature of the music, and a good tenor for the three numbers that involve him as a soloist. The Magnificat, with all its tempo changes and shifts of register, is expressively done, as are the light rhythms of ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord’.