These seven sentences are immensely powerful statements with enormous dramatic potential. MacMillan’s setting is the most successful of all the above, and is rightly considered his masterpiece.
His musical language straddles the modernist world and the holy minimalist world of Tavener and Pärt, but is drawn from the Celtic tradition rather than their Orthodox world. One striking feature of MacMillan’s writing is his torn-off statements that hang in the air during unusually long silences, which he uses so effectively in both the second movement “Woman, behold thy Son” and the opening of the last movement, “Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit”. This is music that is truly heartbreaking.
Most performances of it plunge the audience into floods of tears and if MacMillan had only written this work, his position in the lineage of English music would be assured (although he would remind people that indeed he was Scottish). The Dmitri Ensemble under Graham Ross are simply magnificent, the singing and playing are utterly committed and cannot be more highly praised.
This is a masterwork of our time perfectly captured by a profound performance.