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Maxwell Davies: Linguae Ignis; Vesalii Icones; Fantasia And Two Pavans

Davies / Vittorio Ceccanti / Contempoartensemble
Release Date: 08/30/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572712   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Maxwell Davies
Performer:  Vittorio Ceccanti
Conductor:  Mauro Ceccanti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Contempoartensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAXWELL DAVIES Linguae Ignis. Vesalii Icones. Fantasia on a Ground and 2 Pavans Mauro Ceccanti, cond; Contempoartensemble; Vittorio Ceccanti (vc) NAXOS 8.572714 (60:41)

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (b.1934) has maintained a steady prominence in British and international music, due in equal parts to a highly personal musical vision and an unending productivity. His work parses into two large periods: Until the early 1970s, his music (tied most closely to the ensemble he directed, the Fires of London—known at Read more first as the Pierrot Players) was highly theatrical, eclectic, and frankly somewhat shocking. The tour de force of this period is Eight Songs for a Mad King , which remains a benchmark for a sort of over-the-top, extreme musical monodrama, one of the few pieces to top Pierrot . But in the late ’70s, tied to his move to Scotland’s Orkney Islands, Maxwell Davies’s music became far more sober, somber, and abstract (except for periodic works that celebrated the folk traditions of his new home). As a student at the composer’s composition classes at the Dartington Summer School in 1983, I remember his enthusiasm for Sibelius, and his absolute conviction that his newest music at the time followed analogous harmonic and tonal strategies.

This collection has works from both phases of the composer’s career, united by a similar instrumental focus. Linguae Ignis (2002) is a work for cello and 14 players based on plainchant, which projects an austere tone, moving toward greater expressive extremes before reaching a certain concluding calm. Vesalii Icones (1969) is one of the truly sui generis works that established the composer’s reputation. Also featuring cello as soloist within the Pierrot -plus-percussion sextet, it is a conflation of the 14 Stations of the Cross with anatomical drawings from the landmark Renaissance medical text of Vesalius, enacted by a solo dancer. And on top of all this, it’s actually a story of the birth of the Antichrist! Foxtrots, an out-of-tune piano, a sense of things spiraling out of control into realms of depravity and betrayal: These are all natural associations to this crazed music that starts rather slow, strict, even lugubrious, and ends up in a kind of expressionist meltdown.

The 1968 expressionist Fantasia on a Ground and Two Pavans applies a similar transformation to Purcell. Maxwell Davies’s music from this period is truly unsettling. On the one hand, it feels a bit like an exercise in camp (he did adapt and augment the film score for The Boy Friend , starring Twiggy). But the popular musical references were already antique when he appropriated them, a little like Grandma’s flapper dress. As such they become a bit sinister, one doesn’t know exactly how to react, and that ambivalence is I think exactly what the composer desired. Things aren’t what they seem, is a message of this music; there’s always a counter-meaning waiting in the wings; don’t get smug because if so, you may get mugged.

These are quite wonderful performances by this Italian ensemble, for which Linguae Ignis was written. The sound is warm and clear, and the whole production introduces and advocates the composer’s vision smartly.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Linguae Ignis by Peter Maxwell Davies
Performer:  Vittorio Ceccanti (Cello)
Conductor:  Mauro Ceccanti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Contempoartensemble
Vesalii icones by Peter Maxwell Davies
Performer:  Vittorio Ceccanti (Cello)
Conductor:  Mauro Ceccanti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Contempoartensemble
Fantasia on a Ground and 2 Pavans by Peter Maxwell Davies
Conductor:  Mauro Ceccanti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Contempoartensemble

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