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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b. 1934)
Track listing below review
BBC Philharmonic/Maxwell Davies
rec. live, Cheltenham Town Hall, 47th Cheltenham International Festival of Music, 12-13 July 1991; by arrangement with BBC North, Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 1994/5
NAXOS 8.572358 [73:53]

Caroline Mathilde was a success when it was first performed at the Kongelige Theater (The Royal Theatre) in Copenhagen in 1991. The story in itself is fascinating. The young English princess Caroline Mathilde (1751–1775) sister of the king-to-be George III, was sent to Denmark when she was 15. She was to marry her 17-year-old cousin Christian VII, who was schizophrenic (the mad King) and endured an unhappy marriage. She had a love affair with the King’s physician Struensee and in the end they were both arrested. He was executed and she was exiled and separated from her two children. In passing I just want to mention that this story has been the subject for a latter-day Danish opera, Bo Holten’s Livlægens Besøg (2008) (The Physician-In-Ordinary's Visit). The Holten work is based on a novel by Swedish author Per Olov Enquist, Livläkarens besök (1999).

Peter Maxwell Davies’s music is eclectic – I don’t use the word in a pejorative sense; rather he gets impulses from various directions that he amalgamates into something personal. Sometimes it is pastiche-like, as in the opening of Act I, A Public Square. It sounds more medieval than late 18th century, but never mind. It is charming and light-hearted to begin with but harsh undertones soon creep in. When the opening music returns it is spiced with dissonance. Inside the castle depicts a rather ambivalent mood with some beautiful solo playing – French horn in particular – and flute. In The Queen’s Chamber the composer introduces a lovely pastoral tune, played first by the oboe, then in a minor version by the English horn – a true English rural idyll is depicted. The Royal Chambers opens with a beautiful dance-like tune with flute and harp. After a while this is interrupted by the timpani and brass, playing distorted quotations from the pastoral tune heard earlier. The oboe tries to retain the pastoral feeling but the cello silences it with a gloomy cantilena – the idyll is broken for ever. This long scene is a sorrowful symphonic poem, which works well without references to the ballet. It grows to a magnificent tragic climax.

At the opening of the second act we are again at a public square, but not the same as before. This is dramatically suggestive music, a little like a movie score, distinctive thematic material and a prominent trumpet — a modernized Shostakovich, perhaps. The Conspiracy is hymn-like but alluring. During the masked ball that follows we hear fanfares and festive music, promenading, slightly pastiche-like again, and Shostakovich pops up once more. The Pas de deux is lucidly and airily orchestrated with a notable role for the harp. Darkness falls after a while and in the end this becomes a weird dance, far from any pas de deux one can imagine. The arrest is threatening and intensely dramatic and at the execution drums and muted trumpets herald the cruel event. The Exile of Caroline Mathilde is gloomy with soft strings and off-stage singing, a mood that persists until the end. The BBC Philharmonic play well under the composer in music that I have returned to on numerous occasions the last twenty years.

The ‘fillers’ are also highly attractive. Chat Moss is a short symphonic poem for amateur orchestras, sprinkled with instrumental solos, melodically and rhythmically attractive. There is some truly jazzy feeling.

Ojai Festival Overture is more virtuoso and technically challenging. It is a scherzo-like piece full of high spirits. The trio section has beautiful oboe solos. This overture is highly entertaining.

Excellent recording and generous playing time make this a very attractive buy for lovers of moderately modern music.

Göran Forsling

Previous review: Stephen Barber

Track listing
Caroline Mathilde
– Ballet
Act I: Concert Suite (1991) [25:08]
1. I. A Public Square [3:43]
2. II. Inside the Castle [5:19]
3. III. The Queen’s Chamber [2:48]
4. IV. The Royal Chambers [13:19]
Act II: Concert Suite (1992) [37:34]
5. I. A Public Square [2:48]
6. II. The Conspiracy [4:10]
7. III. The Masked Ball – Court Dance [4:31]
8. IV. The Masked Ball – Pas de deux [6:28]
9. V. The Arrest [5:12]
10. VI. The Execution [5:13]
11. VII. The Exile of Caroline Mathilde [9:11]
Chat Moss (1993) [5:36]
Ojai Festival Overture (1991) [5:35]


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