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Maxwell Davies: Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 9 & 10; Carolisima / Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572356   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Maxwell Davies
Conductor:  Peter Maxwell Davies
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAXWELL DAVIES Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 9 1 and 10. Carolísima Peter Maxwell Davies, cond; 1 David Nicholson (pic); 1 Elisabeth Dooner (a fl); 1 Maurice Checker (Eh); 1 Josef Pacewicz Read more class="ARIAL12">(E? cl); 1 Ruth Ellis (bs cl); 1 Alison Green (cbn); Scottish CO NAXOS 8.572356 (77:01)

Peter Maxwell Davies rounded out his series of 10 concertos for diverse instruments, jointly commissioned by the Strathclyde Regional Council and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 1987, with these two works. It had taken him nine years to reach this point. These two incorporate many of the characteristics of the previous works. They are a tribute to the fine soloists of the SCO, both the six players of more unconventional solo instruments highlighted in the Ninth and the principals in general in the 10th, which is a virtuoso concerto for orchestra. As in the previous concertos, the writing showcases their considerable abilities and the unique qualities of their instruments. In addition, Maxwell Davies’s public love affair with his Orkney home continues, with these works reflecting, as do many of his later compositions, the stark beauty and daunting climate of these remote Scottish islands.

As I have noted in reviews of previous releases ( Fanfare 37:4 and 37:5) each concerto has a unique character. The single-movement Concerto No. 9 takes its inspiration from the varied but cold diffracted light of the Orkney winter, playing on the often storm-tossed North Atlantic or North Sea. The six solo instruments, combined in almost every possible grouping, and at times playing in the extremes of their ranges, interject moments of high drama—the composer calls these outbursts “cadenzas”—or glowering menace, most often followed by passages of still reflection with a turbulent undercurrent. The strings provide both a contrasting lyricism to the statements of the unusual woodwind choir, and in the end, an unsettled chorale as background to the soloists’ final “whirling ‘snowstorm’” of solos.

Concerto No. 10 is in three movements, the first of which is a particularly chaotic and demanding Allegro non troppo which places every instrument—including, as the composer reveals in his notes, even back-desk string players—into the spotlight. This is followed by a melancholy, slightly sinister slow movement which highlights the composer’s remarkable ability to be both plaintive and probing. His humor is reflected in the last, starting as it does with the cheeriest of piccolo solos which quickly is torn to shreds. In the end, this proves a summative work, as Maxwell Davies has reworked thematic material from each of the previous concertos for use in the third movement. As he did in the series of Naxos String Quartets, he tantalizingly leaves things a bit ambiguous, as if to suggest, as indeed he does in his notes, that more might follow. There have been none in the last 18 years, but one never knows.

The program concludes with one of Maxwell Davies more unusual works, a serenade written on commission for the surprise 50th-birthday celebration of friend Carol Høgel and titled Carolísima . Per specification, it has tunes—very Scottish—suitable for whistling and dancing, though with transformations that certainly aren’t. There are, we are told, references to the American dedicatee’s favorite composer—and friend and mentor to Maxwell Davies—Aaron Copland. I’m glad I was informed by the notes, as the resemblance is at best tenuous.

Still, we are told that the dedicate was delighted, and I imagine that any collector who has purchased previous Naxos reissues of the original Collins Classics releases will be the same upon acquiring this disc. Collins’s superb engineering is replicated in this release, the soloists—indeed the whole Scottish Chamber Orchestra—meet or exceed all high expectations created in the previous recordings, and the music, while not easy, is rewarding in proportion to the listener’s investment in it. At the risk of being tedious, I must again encourage Naxos, or another enterprising company, to make arrangements to reissue the beginning of this series—the First and Second concertos—which appeared on Unicorn-Kanchana instead of Collins Classic and is also long out of print. As I mentioned in a review of an earlier disc in this series, this will not only be of interest to those who missed the first release, but also to owners of the original, as the Unicorn release suffers from bronzing (“CD rot”) common to PDO pressings of the period. Most are or eventually will be unplayable.

Meanwhile, this release, containing some compelling works of one of our most accomplished living composers (happy 80th in September!), is urgently recommended.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Carolísima by Peter Maxwell Davies
Conductor:  Peter Maxwell Davies
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994; England 
Strathclyde Concerto no 9, Op. 170 by Peter Maxwell Davies
Conductor:  Peter Maxwell Davies
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994 
Strathclyde Concerto no 10, Op. 179 by Peter Maxwell Davies
Conductor:  Peter Maxwell Davies
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996 

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