Nicholas MAW (b.1935)
Sonata Notturna (1985) [24.16]
Life Studies (1973-76) [40:32]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
English String Orchestra/William Boughton
rec. Concert Hall of the Nimbus Foundation, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 7-8 November 1995
NIMBUS NI5471 [65:07]
The whoopingly voluptuous Straussian eruptions of Scenes and Arias (1962) for  soprano, mezzo, contralto and orchestra was my introduction to Maw. That was on an Argo LP: ZRG 622 since reissued on Lyrita SRCD267.
The sound of the present Nimbus disc is warm, close to your nose and full-on. This suits the Sonata Notturna which is in four impassioned and at times animated movements. Raphael Wallfisch is the fervent soloist. His concentration and that of the orchestra is patent although did I notice one fluff at 7:54. Sadly the four movements are laid out in a single continuous track. Turning to the eight Life Studies we encounter a more modernistic work – or at least one that vibrates with the avant-garde of the 1970s. Penderecki wailings, insect skittering and rasping violence are all there. The writing is slippery yet remains linked with the eloquent English string tradition developed by Tippett in the Corelli work. While the Sonata Notturna (1985) is a world premiere recording the Life Studies have been available before from NMC. There they were played by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Neville Marriner – originally an Argo LP ZRG899. Before the NMC they had been reissued on a Continuum CD CCD1030. If you are going after an all-Maw disc then this Nimbus is for you. However the additional warmth of the NMC makes it your choice if Life Studies is your prime concern.
The notes are by the eminent writer on 20th century music Arnold Whittall. He provides helpful context but too much is taken up with rather cold and technical descriptions.
These essential recordings of music for string orchestra were made in the wake of a Maw weekend at Malvern in November 1995 in celebration of the composer’s 60th birthday.
A Maw discography – incomplete - can be found at

Rob Barnett
Essential recordings of Maw’s music for string orchestra.