After the success of Peter Maxwell Davies's ten 'Naxos' Quartets commissioned by the label (see review
of boxed set for details), here come the Symphonies, with the first five re-released by Naxos in 2012 so far.
Like the first two and the following two, this recording of Symphony no.3 originally appeared on the now subsumed Collins Classics label in the mid-Nineties (14162). Back then, it was the only work on the disc, the ink still wet on the score of Cross Lane Fair
, which came out a year later on the same label (14602), coupled with the much shorter Fifth Symphony.
The Third is a sprawling, elemental work, as wind-swept and rain-lashed as Maxwell Davies's home on Orkney, although the tumultuous seascape is perhaps more abstractly represented than in the Second Symphony. Those who know the composer only through the simple, pretty piano piece Farewell to Stromness
, or even his most popular orchestral piece, An Orkney Wedding With Sunrise
, are in for a surprise!
The Malcolm Arnoldish pizzazz, wit and sound effects of An Orkney Wedding
are more in evidence in the nine-section Cross Lane Fair
, in which Maxwell Davies reanimates childhood fairground visits around his native Salford. Quite what Northumbrian smallpipes and Irish bodhrán players were doing in Salford is never explained, nor how he manages to recall so vividly the sounds and atmosphere of evenings from nearly sixty years previously, when by his own admission a lad of only four or five!
Northumbrian smallpipes are like the archetypal Highland bagpipes but smaller, and kept inflated by an underarm bellows rather than a player's necessarily strong lungs. Their harmonica-like tone, as this recording demonstrates, is considerably softer than the bagpipes, and pitting them against an orchestra is an unlikely idea. Maxwell Davies certainly knows how to orchestrate effectively, and the smallpipes and bodhrán do their stuff when the tutti
are subdued or even silent, as in the bodhrán solo in the section entitled 'The Juggler' - which, bizarrely, is met by score-directed human cheers and applause.
Sound quality in both recordings is very good, especially when their age is taken into consideration.
The booklet notes are detailed with regard to the works themselves, but there is no information at all about the two soloists, nor about the bodhrán or Northumbrian smallpipes - in the latter's case, there are variations of and idiosyncrasies associated with the basic instrument, and a note of enlargement would not have gone amiss.
The timing is generous, however, and the performances first-rate. In all, this is an almost essential purchase for everyone interested in contemporary British music.
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