Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b.1934)
Strathclyde Concerto no.3, for horn, trumpet and orchestra, op.139 (1989) [31:31]
Strathclyde Concerto no.4, for clarinet and orchestra, op.143 (1990) [29:36]
Robert Cook (horn); Peter Franks (trumpet); Lewis Morrison (clarinet)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Peter Maxwell Davies
rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, July 1991.
NAXOS 8.572353 [61:07]
Strathclyde Concerto no.2, for cello and orchestra, op.131 (1987) [35:15]*
Sonata 'Sequentia Serpentigena', for cello and piano, op.285 (2007) [19:35]
Dances from 'The Two Fiddlers' (transcr. Vittorio Ceccanti for cello and piano) (1978/1988/2007) [6:48]
Little Tune for Vittorio in Maremma, for solo cello (2008) [1:11]
Vittorio Ceccanti (cello); Bruno Canino (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI/Peter Maxwell Davies
rec. Valter Neri Studio, Montevarchi, Arezzo, Italy, 10-11 May 2012. *RAI Auditorium, Turin, Italy, 13 September 2006 (live).
NAXOS 8.573017 [62:49]
After the release in 2012 of five separate volumes offering Peter Maxwell Davies's first six symphonies (reviews of the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth and Sixth), this year Naxos have turned to the concertos, the present two CDs following quickly in the wake of the Piano Concerto (review) and a disc that paired those for trumpet and piccolo (review). Hitherto, all discs have been reissues of 1990s-vintage Collins Classics recordings of the composer's orchestral works. With the Collins originals now only available second-hand or imported, Naxos have effectively rescued these valuable recordings from obscurity - in most cases they remain rather astonishingly the only documents of these major late-20th-century works. The first of the two 'Strathclyde' CDs is something of a departure, however - this is a relatively recent recording not previously available. In fact, Concerto no.2 is one of two that were not done by Collins, but rather by Unicorn-Kanchana (DKP CD 9085).
There are ten concertos in all, composed over a decade at an astonishing rate of one a year until 1996. Ironically, the titular co-commissioning body, Strathclyde Regional Council, was abolished that same year, although the old kingdom name lives on in various institutions and elsewhere. On paper at least, the concertos are all semi-pedagogic in character, intended for analysis in Strathclyde schools. In fact, they stand up supremely well as bona fide concert works.
The Second Concerto is especially memorable, modelled with typically Maxian harmonics in the grand tradition, and makes an ideal starting point for a journey through 'Strathclyde'. Richard Whitehouse's notes give a detailed description of what happens in the music; suffice to say here that Italian cellist Vittorio Ceccanti gives a searing account on this live recording, one which is every bit the equal of William Conway's on Unicorn-Kanchana, even allowing for the occasional conspicuous cough from the audience. There is applause at the end, incidentally, although there are, happily, no Proms-style interlopers intruding on the final silence.
Ceccanti has already recorded some Maxwell Davies for Naxos, as solo virtuoso in the two chamber-scale Latin-titled works, Linguae Ignis and the massive Vesalii Icones (8.572712). These were recorded at the Valter Neri Studio in Montevarchi, Italy, like the remaining three works on the present disc. The most important is the Cello Sonata, bearing another Latin subtitle, 'Sequentia Serpentigena', and written for Ceccanti. He and pianist Bruno Canino recreate their 2008 premiere performance for this recording with style and feeling. Maxwell Davies notes that the work is "inspired by the elusive and enigmatic nature of the imagery of (rural medieval churches') stone carvings", particularly the serpent, and "I took as a basis for the work the Gregorian chant proper to Maundy Thursday, Traditor autem dedit eis signum, concerning the betrayal of Christ by Judas." None of that really springs out at the listener, it must be said - the fifth of six movements lapses briefly between military march and foxtrot, for example! - but it remains an engaging, attractive work whose absence from recordings and recitals cannot easily be explained. The cello part in particular is overwhelmingly lyrical.
Ceccanti's own arrangement of two dances (for violin) ultimately deriving from Maxwell Davies's children's opera 'The Two Fiddlers', and the composer's tribute to a favourite cellist bring the disc to a relaxing, tuneful and Scottish end.
The most recent disc of the two, a straightforward replica of the original Collins (1239-2), makes more demands on the listener. According to the blurb, Concerto no.3 "stands in the lineage of works by Haydn, Mozart and Bach's Brandenburg Concertos". This may be true in a theoretical sense, but listeners reared entirely on those grand masters will struggle to find any real similarities in the long atonal passages of Maxwell Davies's work. Performed here, like the Fourth, by the full complement of premiere-givers, including the two soloists to whom it is dedicated, the single-movement Third Concerto provides a virtuosic canvas for two instruments that have always featured strongly in the composer's output - back in 1955 indeed his op.1 was a trumpet sonata. In some ways the work is not unlike the Trumpet Concerto - moving fairly slowly on the whole, inclining modernistically, brilliantly virtuosic, yet not without a good deal of melodic lustre.
Dedicatee Lewis Morrison is soloist for the Fourth Concerto for clarinet and orchestra. Once again, Richard Whitehouse rather fancifully draws parallels with Mozart's great concerto. Critic and pianist Stephen Pruslin is just as optimistic, claiming it "emulates the warmth and mellifluousness of Mozart's two late masterpieces for the instrument". Maxwell Davies's concerto is written for the standard A rather than basset clarinet, but it does make use of an orchestral bass clarinet to effectively extend its range at times. From virtually the same time and of a very similar length, the Fourth Concerto has much the same kind of feel as the Third, challenging audiences and appealing to them in similar ways. Morrison is inspired, and relishes every minute of it. So he might: the concerto is "a journey towards its theme", the theme being a tune by 19th-century folk-musician called Morrison! Thus both Morrisons gently bring the work to a close. Once more, Whitehouse's notes are very informative in their description of each movement.
Sound quality on both discs is very good. In the track-listings and elsewhere Naxos are still withholding opus numbers - the above are taken from Maxwell Davies's excellent website.
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Naxos continue to rescue valuable Maxwell Davies recordings from obscurity.
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