Notes and Editorial Reviews
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
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
. 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.
(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.
(1969) is one of the truly
works that established the composer’s reputation. Also featuring cello as soloist within the
-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
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
was written. The sound is warm and clear, and the whole production introduces and advocates the composer’s vision smartly.
FANFARE: Robert Carl
Works on This Recording
Linguae Ignis by Peter Maxwell Davies
Vittorio Ceccanti (Cello)
Vesalii icones by Peter Maxwell Davies
Vittorio Ceccanti (Cello)
Vesalii icones: I. The Agony in the Garden
Vesalii icones: II. The Betrayal of Judas
Vesalii icones: III. Christ and Pilate
Vesalii icones: IV. The Flagellation
Vesalii icones: V. Christ Condemned to Death
Vesalii icones: VI. The Mocking of Christ
Vesalii icones: VII. Christ Receives the Cross
Vesalii icones: VIII. St Veronica Wipes His Face
Vesalii icones: IX. Christ Prepared for Death
Vesalii icones: X. Christ Nailed to the Cross
Vesalii icones: XI. The Death of Christ
Vesalii icones: XII. The Descent from the Cross
Vesalii icones: XIII. The Entombment of Christ
Vesalii icones: XIV. The Resurrection - Antichrist
Fantasia on a Ground and 2 Pavans (after Purcell): Fantasia
Fantasia on a Ground and 2 Pavans (after Purcell): Pavan No. 1: Quite slow
Fantasia on a Ground and 2 Pavans (after Purcell): Pavan No. 2: Quickly
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