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Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b.1934)
Piano Concerto, op.188 (1997) [36:02]
Worldes Blis, for orchestra, op.38 (1966-69) [42:23]
Kathryn Stott (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Peter Maxwell Davies
rec. St Augustine's, Kilburn, London, 12 November 1997 (Concerto); All Saints Church, Tooting, London, March 1993 (Worldes Blis). DDD
NAXOS 8.572357 [78:25]

This is another recent disc from the excellent Naxos reissue series featuring 1990s-vintage Collins Classics recordings of Maxwell Davies's orchestral works. 2012 saw the release of five separate volumes offering his first six symphonies - see reviews of the First, Second, Third, Fourth & Fifth and Sixth.
 
In 2013 Naxos have started on the concertos, this being the follow-up to a disc that paired those for trumpet and piccolo (review), itself preceding two releases to date of the composer's so-called 'Strathclyde' concerto series (8.573017, 8.572353). Now that the Collins originals are only available second-hand or imported, these Naxos CDs become especially collectible: in most cases they remain rather shockingly the only recordings of these major late-20th-century pieces.
 
Many of Maxwell Davies's orchestral works are big ones, and the pair heard here are no different - the opening movements alone of both run to over a quarter of an hour. The Piano Concerto will not be a particularly comfortable listen for those of more traditional tastes, though an appreciation of, say, Prokofiev's concertos will take the listener so far. Kathryn Stott is the soloist and dedicatee; with Maxwell Davies himself conducting, this must be considered a pretty authoritative recording. Stott gives a masculine performance, not because that is her style but because this is a hard-boiled, quite aggressive work. Even the central slow movement can hardly be considered reflective. For all that, it is not profane but poetically profound. The fact that, a decade-and-a-half on, Stott's remains the only recording, reflects rather badly on other pianists and labels.
 
Worldes Blis is longer still, taking the running time up almost to the full 80 minutes - the Naxos reissues are consistently much more generous than those of the original Collins. Billed as a "motet for orchestra", the archaic spelling of the title reflects the plainchant sources the work draws upon. These are blended with moderate modernist elements which, in all honesty, are decidedly more apparent than anything medieval. At times Worldes Blis, of the same vintage as the notorious Eight Songs for a Mad King, will strike the average listener as anything but blissful - frequently it is all but cacophonous. Critic Paul Griffiths' assertion that it is "Widely regarded as one of the great orchestral works of the 1960s" was always going to stoke controversy. Indeed, as the accompanying notes recall, its premiere at the 1969 BBC Proms was met with no small amount of audience disapproval, leading in some quarters to a walkout protest. However, admirers of modernism will recognise it instantly as a massive, blistering, almost exquisite statement.
 
Like Stott, the Royal Philharmonic give a tremendously impassioned account of both of these extraordinarily demanding works. Sound quality is very good too. Naxos have still not adopted the good habit of supplying opus numbers - the above are taken from the composer’s excellent website.
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk

See also review by Rob Barnett

Maxwell Davies on Naxos