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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b.1934)

Trumpet Concerto (1988)
Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Elgar Howarth
Renaissance Scottish Dances (1973)
The Fires of London/Maxwell Davies.
Turris Campanarum Sonantium for percussion (1970)
Stomu Yamash’ta (percussion)
Rec: Glasgow, January 1990 (Trumpet); Manchester, 1975 (Dances); Decca Studio 3, November 1971 (Turris)
British Music Collection
DECCA 473 430 -2 [57.45]


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There was a time, not that long ago, when every new work by ‘Max’ was quickly recorded and available. Those were the days, first, of the Unicorn-Kanchana label (much underrated) and later of the much-lamented Collins Classics. Now it’s true that some of these recordings are or will be re-emerging in time, but at present many of the composer’s major works are not available and his profile has slipped as a consequence. It is good therefore to welcome this disc from Decca’s ‘British Music Collection’ series. Not only that but these performances are first class; probably are as good as they come. At medium price well worth tracking down.

Nevertheless comparisons with other recordings are of interest; particularly for those of you who have some of this material on other discs. Lets take the Trumpet Concerto first. Written for John Wallace and the Philharmonia it was premiered under the late Giuseppe Sinopoli in Hiroshima in September 1988. Wallace, and Maxwell Davies went to Glasgow Hall to record it in April 1990 for the Collins label (11812). Håkan Hardenberger got there first, recording it under Elgar Howarth in Manchester in the January of that year for Decca. If you can get the Collins version you will find the fascinating coupling of the 4th Symphony scored for Chamber Orchestra. Wallace is a superb player and his performance under the composer is excellent and has an authentic ring, but Hardenberger is even more sensational. He is a little more ‘in your face’ as people say, especially emphasised by the recorded balance, he is also that little bit quicker in the long first movement which works better, without losing the wonderful atmosphere of the slow opening. This concerto is inspired by St. Francis preaching to the birds, and there is a wonderful passage in this movement, better articulated by Max on Collins, where a raft of bird-calls ensues after a trumpet cadenza passage, a similar piece of orchestration can be heard in the third movement of the First Symphony. This concerto though is a fine work, which for me, after re-acquaintance, has grown in stature. St. Francis here is of the Orkney isles, windswept and sea soaked.

One niggling disappointment is that although the work can be divided as it says in the notes into eight changes of tempo, Decca only allow one track for the entire work. Actually the piece falls into three movements and Collins considerately allow three tracks.

The CD cover says, confusingly, that the ‘Renaissance Scottish Dances’ are receiving their ‘first release on CD’. Well, not so. I have in front of me a Unicorn-Kanchana disc (DKP 9070) entitled ‘A Celebration of Scotland’ which concludes with these self-same dances recorded under the composer’s direction (in February 1988) with members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Again this was a good performance nicely put together but on this new CD the Fires of London are even stronger, especially the great Alan Hacker on the ‘folk clarinet’, and Jennifer Ward Clarke on baroque cello. This is in fact an historic recording; a memory of those marvellous concerts in the 1970s on BBC Radio 3 called ‘Music in our Time’ in which Max and his friends often shocked us with arrangements such as these.

Again only one track has been permitted for this, admittedly, short piece whereas it would have been helpful, as on the Unicorn-Kanchana disc if all seven dances had been separately tracked. Is tracking so hugely expensive?

Whatever possessed Max to write or compile ‘Turris Campanarium Sonantium’ I’m not quite sure? To quote the composer writing in the enclosed notes: "it is played entirely on bells and metal surfaces. The performer enters the playing area very slowly, sounding a tiny Indian bell, or a set of jingles". He then proceeds to articulate the form of the piece. It is in four sections ending in the way it began. The form is clear and makes sense. With its titles of ‘Stedman Doubles’ (played on cup-shaped Japanese temple gongs) and Double Bob (for eight handballs) one is reminded of traditional campanology. The inspiration behind this piece is really Stomu Yamash’ta himself and Japanese court music. To add to the variety the fourth section uses Trinidadian steel drums.

So, an intriguing CD of three totally contrasting works from different periods in Max’s creative life. Excellent performances and a disc worth adding to your collection. But if you are not a Max convert then, as the Irishman might say, don’t start here.

Gary Higginson


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