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
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
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.
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]