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Byzantion
MusicWeb International, November 2012

Given their intimate knowledge of the respective scores, the SCO and Philharmonia’s accounts of these works under their progenitor must be considered benchmarks, and there is nothing in these fairly immaculate recordings to start off any debate. Sound quality in both cases is good—the best of the bunch so far, in fact. Richard Whitehouse supplies the notes this time—detailed, informative, well written ones at that. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review



Mark Sealey
MusicWeb International, October 2012

Naxos is in the process of reissuing the Peter Maxwell Davies’ symphonies…The First Symphony is on 8.572348, the Second on 8.572349, and the Third 8.572350. They’re all superb performances—conducted by the composer. He obviously approaches them from the inside and is totally in tune with their energy, vigour, resilience, subtlety and depths.

The performances do not attempt to advocate or make the case for Max’s music—however justified that might have been. Nor do they implicitly draw attention to the particular place which these expansive, arresting and wholly beautiful works hold in the repertoire…large scale symphonic ‘edifices’. Yet each symphony is a building where the ripples in the plaster and pointing—individual instruments’ colours… the woodwind and brass towards the end of the Fourth’s moderato first movement…for instance—are as important as the superstructure: orchestral form and development.

Texture is layered on texture; we are taken on a journey, almost, as everything evolves. The build up of timpani, pizzicato strings and brass at the opening of the same symphony’s second movement—an almost boisterous allegro…for example—is rich in stimuli, crisp, decisive, unyielding, self-assured yet is never sound for sound’s sake.

The Fifth…[is] in one movement, although the listener is aware of sectional divisions. The Fifth has a large percussion section, which works always to a purpose. Here it’s the Philharmonia Orchestra which admirably carries Maxwell Davies’ conceptions to fruition.

The acoustic—that of All Saints, Tooting—is spacious without swamping the orchestra. The re-engineering on the Naxos CDs is excellent; the resulting sonic breadth does these two expansive works full justice. The essay that occupies the minimal insert to the CD provides useful background and close but abbreviated analyses of each movement.

The performances lack nothing in immediacy, interpretative depth and considered nuance. These recordings are satisfying and enthralling as if they were indeed definitive. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review



David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2012

Throughout his career Peter Maxwell Davies’s music has been in a continual state of evolution, though the Fourth symphony was to mark a major change. To that point he had employed a large orchestra speaking in a big and bold language, but in this work he says all he has to say within the confines of a chamber orchestra, and it was to pave the way to his writing of ten string quartets, probably his finest works to date. That he was using that now familiar mix of tonal and atonal sounds, the limitation of colours in a small ensemble seems to have distilled his thoughts. At the same time he had the orchestra who were to give the first performance in mind—the Scottish Chamber Orchestra—and, for those who know the orchestra in the 1980’s, it was tailor made for them. Often turbulent, and with potent brass and timpani, even the slow movement reaches a hard-hitting climactic point. Yet interspersed are moments of timeless tranquility, as in the long flute solo that closes the adagio movement. The Fifth was commissioned by the Philharmonia, and though written for larger forces, Davies contains his ideas within one movement, with much of the writing using the orchestra in small instrumental groups. In common with the Fourth it is a volatile work, contemporary commentators describing it as his finest symphony to that point. As both are here conducted by the composer, as was the case when they were premiered, and also played by the intended orchestras, we can take these as benchmark performances and in excellent sound quality. Recorded in 1990 and 1994 they were for a time available on the Collins Classics label. © 2012 David’s Review Corner






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