Macmillan: The Confession of Isobel Gowdie; Tuireadh; The Exorcism of Rio Sumpúl

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COMPOSERS: Macmillan
WORKS: The Confession of Isobel Gowdie; Tuireadh; The Exorcism of Rio Sumpúl
PERFORMER: Martin Fröst (clarinet); BBC Scottish SO/Osmo Vänskä
In the 12 years since the sensational premiere of James MacMillan’s The Confession of Isobel Gowdie at the 1990 BBC Proms, his list of works has grown alongside his reputation. Nor has his discography lagged far behind: boosted by the commitment of major companies to this singularly talented figure, it now offers his chef d’oeuvre in two versions. Both are with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, though served by different conductors and, in turn, by a recorded sound cast in contrasting complexions.


The new account, on BIS, shares a certain seriousness with previous releases in the label’s ongoing MacMillan series. Neither drab nor showy, it simply acts as non-reflecting glass through which the music is observed. Only a fraction longer than Maksymiuk’s rival reading on Koch, Vänskä’s feels weightier, imbued with more direction. For those who seek narrative in notes rather than programmes, it certainly surpasses the earlier version, in which that latter quality seemed paramount.


The couplings, too, are a bonus. The high violins of Tuireadh, scored up for clarinet and strings from the clarinet quintet original (also available on BIS), more clearly echo Britten’s Sea Interludes, an apt choice of topos for this chill seascape of Gaelic moans and keenings. Martin Fröst is the very capable soloist. And, in the finale of The Exorcism of Rio Sumpúl (1989) it’s a joy to hear Stravinskian neo-classicism handled with a verve recalling that of early Henze, plus some attractive borrowings from Tippett. Nicholas Williams