Macmillan: The World’s Ransoming; The Confession of Isobel Gowdie

COMPOSERS: Macmillan
ALBUM TITLE: Macmillan
WORKS: The World’s Ransoming; The Confession of Isobel Gowdie
PERFORMER: Christine Pendrill (cor anglais); London SO/Colin Davis
Given that The Confession of Isobel Gowdie has held a firm place in he orchestral repertoire since its premiere in 1990, its popularity on disc is hardly surprising. Nearly two decades on, its fusion of expressionist Modernism with the searing lyricism and narrative drive of a latter‑day Shostakovich can still pack a powerful punch. Listening to the orgiastic climax, or still more the glorious string threnody that frames the work, it’s hard to miss Davis’s own passionate involvement in the music. It doesn’t all come across so powerfully, though. The strings may radiate feeling in the final section, but the percussion’s stabbing interjections are a bit limp, and in the long build-up to the final climax some passages lack expressive force and textural clarity. The recording is at least partly to blame: many details sound boxed or recessed and there’s little bloom to the full orchestral sound. The sound picture is significantly better in The World’s Ransoming, and Christine Pendrill (the work’s dedicatee) plays very persuasively, but the orchestral playing takes a while to find focus and full intensity. Things improve by the climax, and the coda strikes the right elegiac note. Still, better the concentrated dark intensity of Osmo Vänskä (again with Pendrill) here, while MacMillan himself – a fine conductor in his own right – makes a more consistently compelling case for The Confession of Isobel Gowdie. Both the MacMillan and Vänskä discs are also excellently recorded.