MacMillan (The) World's Ransoming; (The) Confession of Isobel Gowdie
Sir Colin Davis and the LSO bring out the mainstream qualities of James MacMillan’s orchestral music. With such assured playing, you’re more conscious than ever of the ways in which both these works offer new angles on that archetypal battle between good and evil in which rampant percussion and snarling wind and brass fail to prevail against aspiring strings. At such moments Carl Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony comes to mind: elsewhere – after around 13 minutes of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie to be precise – it is Copland, and what sounds like a direct quotation fromEl Salón México is rather incongruous in the context of this portrayal of the Holy War between faith and bigotry.
Nearly 20 years after its premiere, Gowdie seems more than ever like an all-too-direct representation of hysteria and sadism, with the risk that listeners will feel as unreconciled to the would-be consolatory Catholicism as they do to Inquisitional cruelty. The World’s Ransoming is more temperate, with more substance to its passages of lament, and with more power to the assaults on spirituality which it depicts. I can’t say that these accounts definitively outshine those for BIS from the BBC Scottish SO under Osmo Vänskä (the cor anglais soloist is the same) but they are a welcome reminder of the LSO’s rather limited engagement with contemporary music. The playing time is short, and the recording not as forwardly focused as such overtly dramatic music requires, but at special price it makes a useful addition to the LSO Live series.