Thanks, Christopher and Peter. Your donations are greatly appreciated.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

James MacMillan - The Confession of Isobel Gowdie; etc. (Osmo Vänskä)


Composer: James MacMillan
  • (01) The Confession of Isobel Gowdie
  • (02) Tuireadh, for clarinet and string orchestra
  • (03) The Exorcism of Rio Sumpúl

Martin Fröst, clarinet (2)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä, conductor

Date: 2002



An excellent reminder of the origins of MacMillan’s individual and startling style

In 1992, when The Confession of Isobel Gowdie was two years old, the BBC SSO recorded it under their then chief conductor Jerzy Maksymiuk (Koch Schwann, 10/92). Now the current chief (until next year), Osmo Vänskä, shows that MacMillan’s composition has lost none of its devastatingly lurid blend of sadism and spirituality.

The hectic aspect of this lament for the victim of a 17th-century Scottish witch-hunt might be even more hair-raising (‘frantic’ is one instruction to the brass) if it were played in the 20 minutes shown in the score, though that is probably a mistake. Maksymiuk and Vänskä each take around 25 minutes, and both performances are impressive, but the earlier disc found room for only one other work, Tryst, while BIS offers two, one of which shows MacMillan at his peak.

The Exorcism of Rio Sumpúl, written the year before Gowdie, is another response to an outrage – an army attack on a defenceless village in El Salvador. Since no one was killed, the music can celebrate miraculous survival, and MacMillan does this to exhilarating effect, avoiding the incongruous Copland-style hoedown that infiltrates Gowdie at one point, and working more through economy than overload. Originally laid out for chamber ensemble, the piece benefits from the extra weight of a full string section, and this performance – helped by a bright, spacious recording – has ideal presence and authority.

Tuireadh (Gaelic for ‘lament’) was first scored for clarinet and solo strings, and in this case the use of a full string section places some strain on the musical material. Written in response to the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster, its best moments are harshly forceful; the troubled lyricism of the later stages is also memorable, though the central episode, with its debt to Messiaen’s birdsong idiom, seems static. Even so, the disc is an excellent reminder of the origins of the MacMillan style, and of his determination to give ethical and religious topics special prominence.

-- Arnold Whittall, Gramophone

More reviews:


James MacMillan (born 16 July 1959) is a Scottish classical composer and conductor. He studied composition at the University of Edinburgh with Rita McAllister and Kenneth Leighton, and at Durham University with John Casken. MacMillan came to the attention of the classical establishment with the BBC Scottish SO's premiere of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie at the Proms in 1990. Further successes have included his second opera The Sacrifice and the St John Passion. MacMillan's music is infused with the spiritual and the political. His Roman Catholic faith has inspired many of his sacred works.


Osmo Vänskä (born 28 February 1953, Sääminki, Finland) is a Finnish conductor, clarinetist and composer. He was an orchestral clarinetist of the Turku Philharmonic (1971-1976) and Helsinki Philharmonic (1977-1982), and during this time, studied conducting with Jorma Panula at the Sibelius Academy. Vänskä was chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra (1988-2008), the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (1993-1996), and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (1996-2002). He has been music director of the Minnesota Orchestra since 2003. Vänskä has recorded extensively for the BIS label.


FLAC, tracks
Links in comment

1 comment:

  1. Choose one link, copy and paste it to your browser's address bar, wait a few seconds (you may need to click 'Continue' first), then click 'Skip Ad' (or 'Get link').
    If you are asked to download or install anything, IGNORE, only download from file hosting site (
    If MEGA shows 'Bandwidth Limit Exceeded' message, try to create a free account.