Marin Alsop's recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra features three stylistically diverse contemporary works. James MacMillan's The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, written in 1990, was his breakthrough piece, and remains one of his most frequently performed works. Thomas Adès' Chamber Symphony, written in the same year, likewise brought him into the public spotlight. Jennifer Higdon, on the other hand, wrote her Percussion Concerto well after she had secured a spot as one of the most promising American composers to emerge in the late twentieth century. The three works are striking in their dissimilarity. The MacMillan, which the composer describes as a requiem for a Scots martyr of the seventeenth century, is an emotionally expressionistic work with an anguished mood that eventually resolves into relative serenity. Adès' spare Chamber Symphony is colorful but abstractly modernist, with a detached, sometimes ironic, tone. The Percussion Concerto (of which this is the premiere recording) is more characteristically American sounding; while it has moments of magical delicacy, it's frequently bursting with infectious energy and rhythmic propulsion. Colin Currie, to whom the piece is dedicated and who has performed it many times, plays with spectacular virtuosity; it's sometimes hard to believe that a single person is creating the densely complex web of sound. The performances Alsop elicits from the London Philharmonic are notable for their clarity; in each of the works, the individual lines are clearly and distinctly audible. Even in the beginning of the MacMillan, which can easily sound like an atmospheric haze, the integrity of the individual lines is remarkable. The sound of the live recording is clean, with a good sense of presence.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Chamber Symphony, Op. 2|