Cappella Nova - Alpha & Omega - Gramophone

It's no coincidence that the same early music groups who specialise in Renaissance polyphony are increasingly making a second study of contemporary choral music. Scottish chamber ensemble Cappella Nova are just one of many choirs exploring and exploiting the natural affinities between the repertoire of the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Their latest disc, ‘Alpha & Omega', is the third in a trio of releases devoted to the music of James MacMillan - a composer whose own music sustains an ever more lively dialogue between Medieval and polyphonic traditions and a contemporary choral idiom.

Rich in premiere recordings and with the additional curiosity of a composer conducted rendition of the Missa Dunelmi, this is an essential disc on content alone. As MacMillan admits in the booklet note, he increasingly enjoys revisiting ideas and reworking them, giving this programme an unusually organic feel. The bluesy miasma of the Mass, with its signature Celtic flourishes, is reimagined in the harmonic haze of mihi..., while thematically we return again and again to Mary - in the forthright annunciation of the Magnificat, as mourner in the beautiful Cum vidisset Jesus, with its collapse into wordless humming that vibrates with emotion. MacMillan seems increasingly dissatisfied with the restrictions of traditional choral textures, incorporating sounds that escape the limitations of text-humming; the violin obbligato of Domine non secundum peccata nostra.

Cappella Nova have a particularly white, straight sound (noticeably streamlined since their first MacMillan recording, ‘Tenebrae'-1/08) which shows off the bone-structure of these exquisite motets, poised somewhere between beauty and anguished intensity...carefully translucent, anchored with unobtrusive richness by some excellent basses.

24 January 2014