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.
This highly accessible, colourful and melodic music is here interpreted by the Tapiola Sinfonietta under Jean-Jacques Kantorow, a team whose previous recordings on BIS have been enthusiastically received by the reviewers. A disc of works by Saint-Saëns was for instance described as ‘a smorgasbord of distinctive orchestral colours’ in Classic FM Magazine and was a finalist in the Gramophone Awards 2007.
The title A due alti does not carry any metaphorical meaning, but simply means "for two altos": these are little Baroque chamber songs for a pair of altos and a good-sized continuo group. This repertory is almost completely unknown, but as august a personage as Handel took it up in Caro autor di mia doglia, HWV 182, and cared enough about that piece to go back and rework it years later (it is the later version that is heard here).