Concert Review

Maxwell Davies Las Vegas; Horn Concerto (Richard Watkins) Roma, Amor, Labyrinthus RPO/Maxwell Davies. Barbican, 2 May 2000
Max Myth Blown?

I attended this concert in the hope of overcoming my resistance to much of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' more recent music, only to find myself increasingly depressed by what I heard. Disconcertingly, there seemed to be an unbridgeable gulf between what we read and what we heard. For me the nadir was the new Horn Concerto, which seemed to be composed for a future CD, so inept was the concert hall balance. The strange, uningratiating sounds emerging from this subtle and least assertive of wind/brass instruments were often rendered nearly inaudible by the dense, turgid orchestration, like water absorbed by a sponge.

Apparently Davies' method is derived from Magic Squares, an arcane compositional technique which I have not yet elucidated. I came away wishing one of us had tried Magic Mushrooms instead and decided I was not qualified to write about this music.

I am grateful to Rick Jones and The Evening Standard for permission to reprint his review of the concert. Other reactions to the Millennium Max concert would be welcomed by Seen&Heard.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Millennium Max Las Vegas; Horn Concerto; Roma, Amor, Labyrinthus RPO/Maxwell Davies. Barbican, 2 May 2000

It is amazing how many people come to a Sir Peter Maxwell Davies concert considering how awful most of his music is. Nearly 300 people spread themselves around the Barbican last night to hear the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play three of his works, two of them world premieres, stiffly conducted by himself.

The opener was his joke overture Mavis in Las Vegas. Inspired by a hotel's computerised contraction of his name, it features sleazy night-club brasses, slot-machine percussion, jaunty strings and an innocent solo banjo. It is not what won him a knighthood, but it will probably become his most frequently performed piece which will serve him right.

Ennoblement came for the sort of turgid, joyless, over-complex music audible in the Horn Concerto which was premiered here by Richard Watkins. The grumbling solo is no romantic hunting horn, rather a cold, unlyrical constipated baying. The other world premiere was the three-movement Roma Amor inspired by the life and history of Italy's capital. This has power, colour, not so much baroque elegance but considerable corrupt violence and is one of Sir Peter's more entertaining works. The church organ sounded particularly unbending. Violins screamed as   the flames of the counter-reformation seared flesh.

Rick Jones

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