LSO Live – James MacMillan: The Confession of Isobel Gowdie / The World’s Ransoming

0 of 5 stars

The World’s Ransoming
The Confession of Isobel Gowdie

London Symphony Orchestra
[Christine Pendrill (cor anglais) – The World’s Ransoming]
Sir Colin Davis

Recorded in the Barbican Hall, London – The World’s Ransoming on 24 & 25 September 2003; The Confession of Isobel Gowdie on 21 February and 3 March 2007

Reviewed by: Peter Joelson

Reviewed: January 2008
Duration: 48 minutes



James MacMillan (born 1959) has something of a reputation as the Choleric Catholic Composer. Indeed, his works do contain outbursts of anger, but there is far more to contemplate than that when listening to the pieces presented here. His compositions are inventive and accessible; if you have yet to sample anything by MacMillan, either of these pieces will serve as a very good introduction.

The Confession of Isobel Gowdie was first performed in 1990 and was instrumental in sealing MacMillan’s stature as composer of international renown. The piece serves as the Requiem Isobel Gowdie never had after her death in 1662. The history is shocking: during the 150 years after 1560, about 4,500 Scots were put to death having been found guilty of witchcraft, confessions extorted by horrific means by people overwhelmed by hysteria. MacMillan describes in the note supplied with this issue all the offences to which Isobel Gowdie admitted, from being baptised by the devil to being able to fly or change into various animals or birds. She was strangled at the stake and burned in pitch.

This is LSO Live’s 50th issue for which the LSO deserves many congratulations, having preserved some great performances by the orchestra particularly under Sir Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink and Mstislav Rostropovich. On this release, Sir Colin, a conductor with a wide repertoire, and the LSO give performances with electric ensemble and superb playing.

Many of the recent LSO Live issues have been on SACD, too, and my only regret is the lack of that option in this case. However, the recording, as produced on this CD-only release, is excellent – very clear so that all the complex strands can be followed, and with enough warmth. Each piece’s recording is a composite of a couple of performances, which eliminates coughs and phones ringing for a start.

This highly recommended issue seems short measure at first glance – although the playing time is a little longer than the stated 45’05” (Gowdie takes 25’50” rather than the indicated 22’51”) – but does consist of premium performances at bargain price.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content