Notes and Editorial Reviews
Peter Maxwell Davies, cond;
James Clark (vn);
Catherine Marwood (va);
David Nicholson (fl); Scottish CO
NAXOS 8.572354 (59:27)
As is the case of many of
the recordings in Naxos’s Maxwell Davies series, this is a reissue of a Collins Classics issue, in this case recorded in July 1993, but those discs have been gone for so many years that this might as well
a new issue. I’ve pointed out in my previous reviews of Maxwell Davies’s work that I find him a fascinating if inconsistent and sometimes enigmatic composer. His music is almost always thoughtful and well put together, but not always inspired and not always conveying meaning. These two concertos, I’m happy to say, are among his finest and most interesting works, the Viola Concerto (No. 5) in particular setting a mood and expanding it both temperamentally and musically. Maxwell Davies seems to be particularly fond of the viola and its range, both in terms of notes and of expression, and so he stretches its limits, often high up into the violin range, which helps produce an interesting tension against the backdrop of the (mostly) string ensemble behind it. I should also like to commend Catherine Marwood for her excellent playing, both technically and expressively. She gives a simply marvelous performance here. I was particularly taken by some of the deftly-conceived passages using string portamento in new and dramatic ways.
I also liked the essentially dramatic, and thus somewhat tragic, cast of the music. Despite being written for a viola and chamber orchestra, this music is in no way lightweight or trivial; it has wonderful
and a sense of purpose in every bar. I also liked the way Maxwell Davies set up a counterpoint between the solo viola and violinist Clark at the outset of the last movement—and, later on, viola against solo cello. The music here is a bit grittier, more abstract, than in the previous two movements, but nonetheless fascinating and effective.
Although the Flute Concerto (No. 6) naturally inhabits a different sound world—lighter in texture, more transparent, and at times more lyrical—I found it no less serious a work. Here, too, one discerns much more coloration in the orchestra from brass and winds, particularly the French horn and clarinet, and Maxwell Davies occasionally uses high percussion instruments such as glockenspiel and triangle as color around the solo flutist. Strictly as a communicator, I did not find David Nicholson nearly as expressive as or in the same league with James Galway or Claude Monteux, but this work is less expressive by its nature, and thus challenges him less than the Viola Concerto challenges Marwood. And he is clearly able to do whatever Maxwell Davies asks of him, which is gratifying in itself. There is a plaintive quality about the
that suggests a “calm center” between the two busier outer movements, and here, too, there is a solo by another instrument, in this case a violist from the chamber orchestra. Maxwell Davies subjugates the horns and clarinets to background ambience here, creating a wonderful mood in which the spell is never broken. Oddly, I felt somehow that his use of a pizzicato bass was at least partially influenced by jazz, as its few notes are completely isolated from everything else yet form a musical bridge between sections; and, later, it adds a few somber touches to the ensemble when the flute returns.
The last movement starts with four solo flute notes before the chamber orchestra enters with a quirky, if light-footed, little dance. As the liner notes indicate, there are also traces of folk music in this movement, although woven so deftly into the fabric of the score that it sounds very fragmented, even sporadic. There is also much dry wit in this movement, as Maxwell Davies creates a sort of crazy-quilt polyphony with muted trumpets and other instruments woven around the solo flute before the music quiets down again and fades away into the sunset. All in all, a good CD, and one that I feel is well worth your investment.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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