Greyfriars Kirk was packed last night for the world premiere of James MacMillan’s Since it was the day of Preparation…, a work jointly commissioned by the Edinburgh Festival and Hebrides Ensemble, among others. The Hebrides – for these purposes an unorthodox collection of cello, clarinet, horn, harp and theorbo, directed by cellist William Conway – joined forces with vocal quartet Synergy Vocals and solo bass Brindley Sherrat, who sang the central role of Christ.
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In the space of 80 minutes, MacMillan’s tapestry of vocal narrative and strategically placed instrumental reflections (both solo and full ensemble) picks up the Gospel story from the point where he left off in his 2007 St John Passion.
This treatment of the Resurrection story, however, is much more intimate, more overtly sentimental, more exotically coloured, than the larger Passion.
Yet there are linked references: the ethereal concertante-style narration; an instrumental underscore, cinematic at times, that has a turbulent emotional life of its own; and a supreme clarity of texture, the unbridled simplicity of which heightens the emotional impact.
This was an impressive first performance by the Hebrides, despite restless comings and goings among the audience, and the very occasional sense of hiatus in the dramatic flow.