JAMES MACMILLAN (b.1959): The World's Ransoming, The Confession of Isabel Gowdie.
Catalogue Number: 01J090
Label: LSO Live
Description: This CD presents two important facets of MacMillan's compositional craft; his Catholic faith and his no less ardent Scottish nationalism. The Confession of Isabel Gowdie was one of the first works that established MacMillan as a major figure, upon its premiere at the 1990 Proms. It narrates a dramatic, if horrific and sadly typical of its time, historical event; in 1662, a woman by the name of Isabel Gowdie was found guilty of witchcraft and horribly executed. MacMillan enlarges upon this story to paint a vivid portrait of Scotland's cruel and colorful history, echoing his own thoughts on political and social injustice. Incorporating a Scottish folksong, Plainsong and Psalm-singing, this bold score transcends the dramatic narrative to become, in the composer's words, 'the requiem that Isabel Gowdie never had'. The World's Ransoming is MacMillan's commentary on the events of Maundy Thursday in Easter week. Again combining musical depiction of events with their metapsychical overtones, in its early stages the work explores the conflict between three main characters, jubilant dancing music and solemn chant, interrupted by strident fanfares. These give way intermittently to the plangent tones of the cor anglé, in an almost concertante rôle, eloquent and mellifluously melodic. This single voice becomes increasingly important as the work progresses, finally emerging in an extended solo of Shostakovich-like desolation before being brutally dismissed by the shocking, and graphically literal sounds of hammering which bring the work to its close. Both works are quintessential MacMillan, in his now familiar complex, multi-layered but unquestionably tonally-based idiom, constantly demonstrating the masterly control of very large orchestral forces for which MacMillan is justly renowned.