Notes and Editorial Reviews
: No. 3 for Horn, Trumpet, and Orchestra; No. 4 for Clarinet and Orchestra
Peter Maxwell Davies, cond; Scottish CO; Robert Cook (hn); Peter Franks (tpt); Lewis Morrison (cl)
NAXOS 8.572353 (61:07)
: No. 5 for Violin, Viola, and String Orchestra; No. 6 for Flute and Orchestra
Peter Maxwell Davies, cond; Scottish CO; James Clark (vn); Catherine Marwood (vl); David Nicholson (fl)
NAXOS 8.572354 (59:27)
Both of these discs are re-releases of the recordings Peter Maxwell Davies made for the now sadly defunct Collins Classics label in 1992 and 1994 respectively. The original releases were reviewed in these pages by Scott Wheeler (16:2) and Robert Carl (17:6). Wheeler was enthusiastic about the earlier, while Carl was, as he put it, ambivalent in his recommendation of the latter. Me? I couldn’t be more thrilled to see these marvelous works back in the catalog.
One thing we have that the original reviewers did not is a perspective on the series of 10 concertos as a whole. The commission from the Strathclyde Regional Council and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra resulted in a strikingly diverse sequence of works, completed between 1986 and 1996, that explore the character of each instrument or combination: oboe, cello, horn and trumpet, clarinet, violin and viola, flute, double bass, bassoon, and six woodwinds. The series is rounded out, and summed up, by a concerto for orchestra. Each concerto calls on the special skills and musical style of the soloist or soloists who made the recording, each of whom was well known to the composer and each of whom premiered the work. In the first of these rereleases, Maxwell Davies chooses militant spikiness and competitive virtuosity for the trumpet and French horn, set on a ruminative brass-less orchestral field. For the clarinet, he creates a haunting Scottish folksiness—though not without significant drama as well—and a last movement setting of a Gaelic tune against a breathtaking evocation of windswept Orkney vistas. In the second he offers a harmonically distinctive exploration of the violin and viola inspired by the Sinfonia Concertante, K 364, but with a decidedly un-Mozartian conflict at its core, and a complementarily playful, glockenspiel-illumined Concerto for flute, inspired by Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s 1560 painting
. The soloists and orchestra—the latter classically proportioned in all concertos, but sometimes unusually constituted—are in all cases superlative. The composer’s direction can be presumed definitive.
That said, collectors who already own the Collins releases of these recordings have no compelling reason to replace them. The excellent sound is identical to the originals; Richard Whitehouse’s analysis/annotations are available on Naxos’s website. Yet, for the serious listener who missed them once, this should be a most welcome pair of releases. There is no overstating the richness of the composer’s invention, or the intensity and clarity of the argument, or the surprising and often profoundly moving beauties to be found in these scores. It is not easy music, but to those willing to invest the time to appreciate these genuinely rewarding works, these discs are urgently recommended. Now if Naxos would but favor us with the rest of the series, to include the particularly hard-to-find Unicorn-Kanchana recording of the first and second of these concertos, to complement the live recording of the number two already released….
FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames