With this release Naxos continue their praiseworthy revival of the old Collins catalogue with two further episodes in Maxwell Davies’s cycle of Strathclyde Concertos
written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The concertos were consciously designed as a modern response to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos
, and like their models they each feature different soloists drawn from the ranks of the commissioning body. Unlike Bach, Maxwell Davies wrote ten of them, and this release constitutes the third in a continuing series. One hopes that in due course Naxos will release the whole set as a box demonstrating the range of the composer’s achievement, perhaps, we can hope, in time for his eightieth birthday next year. In the meantime Maxwell Davies aficionados
who missed out on the original Collins issue (13032) should waste no time in snapping up this latest release.
Although the Strathclyde Concertos
may have their parallels in the eighteenth century, this is not neo-classical music in the mode so fashionable in the 1920s and 1930s. It is music of the late twentieth century which at the same time is far removed from the composer’s enfant terrible
phase of the 1960s and 1970s. On occasions the sheer productivity of Maxwell Davies may have left an uneasy feeling that his compositional muse is running on auto-pilot, but there is no evidence of that anywhere here. The fifth concerto opens with a meditative cadenza-like dialogue for the two string soloists, which is developed in a rather severe contrapuntal style which nevertheless rises to heights of real passion. The later development becomes more formalistic in style, but the tension never relaxes with some stirring writing for the orchestral strings. This eventually leads to a meditative cadenza for the two soloists. The material is based in part on a song by the seventeenth century Dutch composer Jan Albert Ban significantly entitled Vanitas
. It also includes references to the overture to Haydn’s opera L’isola disabitata
although the Haydnesque influences are far less easy to discern. After a slow and meditative Adagio
the final movement is more lively, but the music remains essentially serious. This is by no means simply a display piece and the ending is truly haunting as it dies away into oblivion.
The sixth concerto with the flute accompanied by full orchestra is rather lighter in mood. It draws on the influences of Scottish folk music especially in the dance-like finale. It was, like its predecessor, expressly written for the players on this disc. It is sad to learn that David Nicholson, one of the founders of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 1974, died in 2010; the booklet notes have been updated from the original issue to reflect this; one wishes that all record companies were so conscientious. The association of the orchestra with the composer has been long-standing, and has borne fruit in many memorable works from Maxwell Davies quite apart from the Strathclyde Concertos.
The flute concerto is a more readily approachable piece than its companion on the disc. Some of the interplay between the soloist and orchestra is beautiful to hear.
Many thanks to Naxos for rescuing these unique recordings. They are a most valuable restoration to the catalogue. Roll on the final two releases.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Maxwell Davies on Naxos