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Cat. No. CHAN 10275 Price: £10.5 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 10275 - MacMillan: The Confession of Isobel Gowdie/ Symphony No. 3
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Available From: 10 January 2005
Premiere recording of Symphony No. 3.

Features The Confession of Isobel Gowdie one of James MacMillan’s most famous works.

James MacMillan is one of Britain’s most successful contemporary composers with a high international profile. As well as appearing as guest conductor for many of the UK’s top orchestras, he is currently Affiliate Composer of The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, resident of the USA’s Saratoga Festival and Composer/Conductor in Residence for the BBC Philharmonic.

The Notes

The reason for the immense success of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie lies partly in the passionate involvement of the composer in his subject matter. MacMillan had been disturbed by accounts of the executions of alleged ‘witches’ in his native Scotland after the Reformation, where it is estimated that around 4,500 Scots – most of them women – were murdered for being ‘in league with the Devil’. In 1662 a woman named Isobel Gowdie was induced under torture to confess to all manner of diabolical acts, for which she was strangled and burned at the stake. In the published score MacMillan wrote:

On behalf of the Scottish people, the works craves absolution and offers Isobel Gowdie the mercy and humanity that was denied her in the last days of her life… This work is the Requiem Isobel Gowdie never had.

The work is comprised of a densely textured and often violent middle part (vividly suggestive of trail, torture and mass hysteria), framed by two ravishingly beautiful elegies in the old Lydian church mode. Throughout, MacMillan makes ingenious use of chant as a unifying force.

The title of MacMillan’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Silence’ (2002) is something of a riddle: how can music express or portray silence? Certainly Western classical composers have used silence to great effect, but MacMillan is thinking less of dramatic effect than of theological concept: what happens when God himself falls silent? For many modern believers, faced with the atrocities of the Holocaust, Stalinism or the Cambodian Killing fields, the problem of God’s apparent non-intervention is acute. This theme is central to the novel Silence by the twentieth-century Japanese writer Shusaku Endo, a novel with which MacMillan had already been deeply impressed when the commission came from the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Japan.
Reviews

"... composer draws an inspired performance from the BBC Philharmonic, reinforcing the quality of the series of MacMilan’s recordings for Chandos, all vividly recorded."
The Penguin Guide - 1000 Greatest Classical Recordings 2011-12


The development of MacMillan’s art, which these two works personify, is one of the more exciting in British music in recent years, and this record joins the earlier Chandos releases of his music as an issue of major importance.
International Record Review

The performance is tremendous – as is the recording, which takes the very wide dynamic range of the music and of the placement setting of the orchestra without any stain at all. Macmillan would appear to be an inspiring conductor of his own music, for this fine orchestra plays with considerable power, colouring and detail throughout… The development of Macmillan’s art, which these two works personify, is one of the more exciting in British music in recent years, and this record joins the earlier Chandos release of his music as an issue of major importance.
International Record review

The Work [Symphony 3] is a hauntingly ambivalent study at both the musical and philosophical levels, with themes and textures arising seemingly from their own absence, interacting and developing, then being allowed to return to their origins. Both works are conducted by MacMillan with the kind of passion that characterises so much of his work as a composer, internalised yet compellingly communicative. The BBC Philharmonic responds in kind with the most committed of performances, captured to perfection by a natural and beautifully balanced recording…
BBC Music Magazine

It’s a compelling account [of ‘Confessions’], superbly played and resplendently engineered, more visceral in its physical and dramatic impact than either of its predecessors, yet just as piercingly expressive in the strings’ heart-rending lament that frames the whole… Suffice to report, the composer masterminds another outstandingly committed rending [of the Symphony] and the sound has all the sumptuous immediacy we have come to expect from this source.
Gramophone

 

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