One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b. 1934)
An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise (1984)
George McIlwham (highland bagpipes)
Rec. EMI studios, London, December 1991
Strathclyde Concerto No 7 for double bass and orchestra* (1992)
Duncan McTier (double bass)
Rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, November 1993
Threnody for Michael Vyner† (1989)
Rec. Cheltenham Town Hall, July 1991
Piano Concerto (1997)
Kathryn Stott (piano)
Rec. St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, November 1997
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
* Scottish Chamber Orchestra
† BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
all conducted by the composer

This is no ordinary CD. "Custom Compilation" means that I chose the programme and it was made to order. This possibility has been on the horizon for some time and, for all I know, may be common in other musical cultures but it doesn’t seem to have impacted greatly on classical music yet. This is my first experience of it and a very positive one too.

For a major contemporary composer, the music of Peter Maxwell Davies ("Max") is grossly under-represented in the catalogues at the moment. Partly this is due to the demise of the Collins Classics label but, even so, I was very surprised to find that he doesn’t feature in the 2003-4 Penguin Guide or 2004 Gramophone Classical Good CD Guide. The facilities of his website are now making amends.

I visited the site in late October 2004 and was impressed with the design and layout. As well as custom-made CDs, there is also a facility (which I haven’t tried) to download individual pieces in various formats at prices between £1 and £4 depending on duration. The price of a custom-made CD is £6.85 plus 60p postage and packing, and it is suggested that the disc will take about 10 days to arrive (mine took 7 days). Payment was made by credit card, and I rapidly received an acknowledgment and invoice by e-mail.

The process of building a CD was straightforward. An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise seemed an obvious starter and I chose the Piano Concerto as the main work. Having lived in Glasgow in late 1980s when the Strathclyde Concertos project was beginning, I felt it was about time I caught up with one of them. There was room for No. 7 which is for Double Bass. This seemed a particularly good idea as I only have one other Double Bass Concerto (Tubin’s). I decided to put this between the other two works. The maximum time allowed is 74 minutes and I had now accrued just over 70 minutes. I was feeling content but, helpfully, the CD builder is intelligent and indicated that I could still add the Threnody for Michael Vyner a three and half minute work for orchestra. And why not? It seemed logical to slot it in between the concertos. Finally, I needed to choose a title to be printed on the spine ("Peter Maxwell Davies – Piano Concerto etc.").

The presentation of the disc is excellent and the booklet also effectively custom-made. A blue tinge on the playing side and a warning not to expose to sunlight are the only indications that the CD is not factory made. The booklet contains 16 pages, of which 13 are filled with detailed notes about the pieces and performers. I was slightly surprised that the three left blank weren’t filled with a list of the other works available on the site.

So to the music. An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise is a delightful work full of good tunes based on Scotch rhythms. There is a positively thrilling moment when, towards the end, the Highland Bagpipes enter. The Double Bass concerto is a more serious work in two movements, the second of which has a slow introduction. The full range of the instrument is explored and the orchestral accompaniment is fairly light. Threnody for Michael Vyner was written as a tribute to the manager of the London Sinfonietta who died in 1989. It received its first performance by that orchestra under the composer just six days after his death.

The Piano Concerto of 1997 was written for Kathryn Stott and is a work of major substance – I am struggling to think of a finer recent example of the genre. In three movements, it has a demanding solo part but is also often lyrical. The slow movement is hauntingly beautiful. Apparently Max’s initial thoughts were to model it on Mozart’s concertos but it obviously moved on a long way in the composition process, with Bartók and Prokofiev being acknowledged influences.

There is not much need to say anything about all these performances - they are essentially definitive. The sound is fine without being in the demonstration class and I suspect that has more to do with the original masters than the CD burning process.

Since I bought this CD, the site has been updated and about 45 works of Max’s works are now available including Symphonies Nos. 2, 3, 5, 8 (Antarctic) and three of the Strathclyde Concertos (Nos. 3, 7, 9). I’ll certainly be going back to juggle programmes which might include Lullaby for Lucy, the Trumpet Concerto, Antarctic Symphony and some of the piano music. I hope you will be there too for this excellent venture deserves every support.

Patrick C Waller

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.