This is a superb collection of contemporary classical pieces by a world-class orchestra, led by a conductor who has already made a name for herself as an interpreter of modern music. The album opens with Scottish composer James MacMillan's powerful Confession of Isobel Gowdie: composed in 1990, this work focuses on the martyrdom in 1662 of a Scottish woman accused of witchcraft, amid the long period of hysterical persecutions following the Scottish Reformation. Mournful string passages predominate at first, gradually yielding to fierce attacks by the brasses, winds, and percussion as the music addresses the barbaric execution of the condemned woman -- ultimately, expressions of grief and anger alternate until the piece ends on a long, anguished cry of foreboding from the entire orchestra. Following this emotionally searing experience, Alsop shifts the mood with a genial interpretation of Thomas Adès's Chamber Symphony (written when the London-born composer was still an undergraduate), emphasizing the sinuous, jazzy inflections of the work in a way that her mentor, Leonard Bernstein, would certainly have enjoyed. Concluding the disc is Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto (2005), another example of this young American composer's ability to create innovative, distinctive music that is also highly accessible. Featuring a bravura performance by soloist Colin Currie, the concerto plumbs the full range of the percussionist's art, offering everything from thunderous drumming to the most delicate tintinnabulations. All in all, this is a don't-miss disc for fans of contemporary classical music -- it could even appeal to those whose tastes run to more traditional fare.
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