MacMillanÔÇÖs large-scale festival settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis can be performed with organ or orchestra. The Magnificat was commissioned by the BBC for the first Choral Evensong of the new Millennium and the Nunc Dimittis by Winchester Cathedral. The choral style is simple and often homophonic (unusual for the composer) as in the celebratory Gloria. Much of the elaboration of the textual imagery occurs in the introspective, Messiaen-tinged non-choral episodes, evoking evening and birdsong.
The Magnificat is a large-scale work which is genuinely straightforward to sing. It lasts some 12 minutes, although when the organ accompanied version is used liturgically this reduces to about ten minutes as MacMillan has authorized a major cut from the introduction. The contrast between the colourful orchestral/organ interludes and the simple homophonic statements from the choir is marked. As so often in MacMillanÔÇÖs music it all leads somewhere, however, and the build up towards the Gloria becomes intensely contrapuntal before the Gloria returns to the stark statements of earlier, but this time fortissimo. The work subsides to a meditative end. The Nunc Dimittis, lasting eight minutes, shares some musical material with the Magnificat and starts wonderfully with very low bass notes portraying the elderly Simeon. It builds to a huge and exciting climax and ends with the bassesÔÇÖ low notes once more.