James MacMillan - The Confession Of Isabel Gowdie

Monday 1st February 1993
James MacMillan - The Confession Of Isabel Gowdie

STYLE: Classical
RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
LABEL: Kock Records 310502

Reviewed by Dave Massey

From the haunting whale-like sounds at the beginning of 'The Confession Of Isabel Gowdie', this is a recording that arrests and holds the attention. With excruciating minor second clashes and long piercing high notes on the strings, it builds the emotions to fever pitch before slowly dissolving into a single note and chords full of unresolved harmonies. The theme of the work is inspired by Isabel Gowdie who was burned at the stake for her Catholic faith during the Reformation and as such it is pervaded with musical references to torture and the hysterical fervour of those who propagated a bigoted view of religion. The harsh brass voices and accented chords are only occasionally punctuated by a plaintive string sound that no doubt depicts the martyred woman in contrast to her suffering and those who inflicted it. A final crescendo provides a beautiful and imaginative mixture of strings and barely perceptible woodwind that creates a harmonic overtone effect above the building chord. It is not an easy listen, and neither is the accompanying piece, "Tryst", based on a love poem by William Soutar which utilises many of the same effects - including MacMillan's favoured glissando in the string sections. Even so, this is a recording well worth persevering with.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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