Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b. 1934)
Symphony No. 1, Op. 119 (1976) [54:54]
Mavis in Las Vegas (1997) [13:09]
BBC Philharmonic/Peter Maxwell Davies
rec. New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 8-9 December 1994 (Symphony); 10 July 1997 (Mavis)
NAXOS 8.572348 [68:03]
It’s good that Naxos have a rigorous policy of reissuing important discs by labels that have folded. Gerard Schwarz’s consistently inspired Hanson cycle – ex-Delos – is a prime example of this, as is the emerging set of Maxwell Davies symphonies first issued by Collins. One hesitates to use the word ‘authoritative’, but the latter series – conducted by the composer himself – certainly qualifies. Factor in very good modern recordings and fine playing and it seems that Naxos are on to another winner.
Maxwell Davies’ Symphony No. 1, begun in 1973, has a dark, brooding presence; not surprising perhaps, as the piece started out as an evocation of ruined crofts on Orkney. There’s a compelling lucidity to this score that reminds me of Britten at times; there’s that same economy of style, not to mention a propensity to surprise with passages of sudden lyricism and feeling. There’s no shortage of invention either, and the clear, spacious recording really brings out the subtleties of Maxwell Davies’ colour palette. Anyone who struggled with his more impenetrable and polemical Ninth at this year’s BBC Proms will surely rejoice in the evocative landscapes recreated here.
Mavis in Las Vegas, written after a 1995 US tour with the BBC Philharmonic, paints another picture; this time it’s the strange, light-slashed world of Las Vegas, its garish attractions and windowless gambling palaces. Now disembodied, now disarming but always enticing this artfully constructed score is pure delight. It brims with the kind of wit familiar from works such as Orkney Wedding and Sunrise, and it’s clear the band relish every bar. What’s refreshing is the composer’s lightness of touch, which results in music of great transparency, charm and – at the close – a nicely judged outburst of rumbustiousness. If you like that you’ll like this; Sunset Strip, Michael Daugherty’s scintillating homage to LA (review).
Accessibility is so often used as a euphemism for anodyne; that’s emphatically not the case here. With a strong narrative, unexpected, ear-pricking touches and – in the Vegas piece – a twinkle in its eye, there’s much to tease and please in these scores. Oh, a final thought; the warm, expansive acoustic of the BBC Phil’s old home – the venue for this recording – just confirms just how ‘grey’ and unresponsive their new one at MediaCity is by comparison.
Great fun; a reminder of the composer’s relaxed, more genial side.
Dan Morgan
see also review by Byzantion
Great fun; a reminder of the composer’s relaxed, more genial side.