After Bernard Haitink earlier in the evening and the breath-taking end to Mahler's 9th, Douglas Boyd and the Manchester Camerata had a hard act to follow. A measure of their success was that they achieved the rare feat of making a contemporary work more gripping than that of an earlier era. The Haydn that formed the first part of the late-night programme was certainly well played and sung, with the soprano Elizabeth Watts standing out, but the way Boyd emphasised the clarity, and unflinching bleakness, with which the Scottish composer James Macmillan had dealt with the seven last words on the cross made this feel like the profounder work. Boyd was helped by sublime singing from the choir and its soloists (particularly a very tall and lyrical tenor who threatened to steal the show) and who eloquently drew out the many flavours of the work, from orthodox chant to Scottish laments. Were there elements too of Britten's 'Curlew River' and Tavener's 'Veil of the Temple'? Although the crowd was down to a hardy 500 or so, after the earlier full house for Haitink, the aridly beautiful climax was just as tension-filled and inspiring.
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