Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****
In its grief, fury and compassion, the ancient text – on Mary as she watches her son Christ on the cross – is a perfect fit for MacMillan’s visceral music, and in his pre-concert talk he admitted he’d been circling the subject for decades in other Passion-themed works. Those years of contemplation showed, though, in a setting that treated its subject almost as expressionist drama, yet whose eloquent form – with memories and premonitions of music past or yet to come – stressed the universality of its message. From the resplendent choral harmonies that opened the third movement – only to return in drained resignation to close it – to the meek closing Amens, MacMillan’s Stabat Mater is a masterpiece of choral invention, at times almost ecstatic in its sorrow, and it’s hard to imagine a more compelling, convincing account than this.
By way of complete contract, before the interval MacMillan himself conducted the SCO in his orchestral showpiece Tryst from way back in 1989 – just as mesmerising in its swaggering, audacious confidence.