Sir Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b. 1934)
Piano Concerto (1997)* [36:02]
Worldes Blis - Motet for Orchestra (1966-69) [42:23]
Kathryn Stott (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Peter Maxwell Davies
rec. St Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, London, 12 November 1997 (tracks 1-3), All Saints Church, Tooting, London, March 1993 (tracks 4-9), DDD
Previously released on Collins Classics in 1993 and 1998
NAXOS 8.572357 [78:25]
Maxwell Davies seems to have something of the reputation of a reclusive rock-star. Somehow it’s intensified by an Orcadian Nordic glamour. His early works defined iconoclasm but then works such as Farewell to Stromness and, to a degree, his First Symphony mapped, remapped and broadened his image. A goodly stream of symphonies and concertos stretches from the late 1970s onwards.
This inspired Naxos project rides on the broad shoulders of a shoal of deleted Collins Classics CDs from the 1990s. They have for the most part occupied themselves with the symphonies and (newly recorded) the Naxos Quartets. It will, I am sure, pick up the Strathclyde Concertos and the other concertos and non-symphonic works in the fullness of time. In this process the present disc is a by no means insignificant entry.
These are dissonant works but are not as forbidding or as unaccountable as you may have remembered Maxwell Davies’ works of the 1960s. That has been my experience. Mind you, I have not gone back to his Pierrot Players works and The Songs of a Mad King.
The Piano Concerto is in four movements. It bursts on to the scene with a landslide of notes - an enraged wild-eyed medusa. Soon however it melts into a solipsistic dream with dissonance applied freely. The music is overarched by the fanfare figure that Britten uses in his Serenade: The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls. The RPO bring playing of the utmost tenderness to the second movement. This is, at heart, very romantic and at times sentimental. Such kaleidoscopic variety! The third movement is memorable for dreamy jazzy little figurations. It’s also very English. The finale evokes a westering sun setting impossibly slowly and ending with reminiscences of those trumpet fanfares from the first movement but lightly sprinkled with dissonance.
The Concerto is dedicated to Kathryn Stott who worked with the RPO on other projects including Dutton’s fantastic reissue of the Ireland, Bridge, Walton works for piano and orchestra.
Worldes Blis is from thirty years earlier. Its colours are subdued. We seem to be led through a darkling Schoenbergian forest then into a tragic Tod und Verklärung episode, rising to a fearful jagged dawn. The other episodes - which play continuously but are separately tracked - make play with noodling plangency, purposeful belligerence, anxiety and a wild though not fast pulse. This remains a most imaginative work which I liked far more than I had expected. It ends with a quiet un-emphatic murmur from the woodwind and that's it - no false heroics, no flamboyant theatricals. The work’s title is taken from a thirteenth-century plainchant and speaks of the very Baxian theme of the transience of life and beauty.
The better than useful liner-notes are by David Nice and Richard Whitehouse.
Maxwell Davies’ 80th birthday falls in 2014 so we can look forward to much more and by then the completion of the Naxos 17 CD project to reissue all the Collins Classics originals.
Thirty years separate two toughly rewarding works. Dissonance is once again shown not to be at odds with Romanticism.
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