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The Classical Reviewer, July 2013

MAXWELL DAVIES, P.: Symphony No. 1 / Mavis in Las Vegas (BBC Philharmonic, Maxwell Davies) 8.572348
MAXWELL DAVIES, P.: Symphony No. 2 / St. Thomas Wake (BBC Philharmonic, Maxwell Davies) 8.572349
MAXWELL DAVIES, P.: Symphony No. 3 / Cross Lane Fair (BBC Philharmonic, Maxwell Davies) 8.572350

Naxos Records have started re-issuing the Collins Classics recordings of the first six symphonies [of Peter Maxwell Davies] made with the composer conducting. So far the first three have been issued and each has an interesting fill up work.

These wonderful symphonies are well worth getting to know even if at first you find the musical language difficult to understand. They will reward amply with repeated listening. © 2013 The Classical Reviewer Read complete review

William Hedley
MusicWeb International, July 2012

When this performance of the Second Symphony was first released on the Collins label in 1994 the work was hailed in the Gramophone as a masterpiece. I didn’t hear it then, and come new to it now…it is a very fine work indeed. Like its predecessor, it is written on a large scale, and in spite of the difficulty of perceiving its themes it does hold the listener’s attention, even at a first hearing. The inspiration for the work is the sea, and in particular—Maxwell Davies writes in the booklet note—the tensions set up by the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea “at the foot of the cliff before my window”.

Stephen Pruslin’s note on St Thomas Wake…is very nearly a model of its kind, providing background information, explanation and description in straightforward language. The work itself is vintage Maxwell Davies, with a period band—dressed in boaters and striped blazers—sitting beside the symphony orchestra, its series of superbly adept pastiche foxtrots on which the orchestra comments and eventually overwhelms, and the whole a kind of ironic evocation of the composer’s childhood memories of the Second World War, plus much else besides. Though frequently comic, it is, in fact, a deeply serious work, heavily disguised.

The performance of the symphony by the BBC Philharmonic under the composer’s direction is a fine one.

Naxos, with their enormous catalogue of original recordings, are also putting us in their debt by reissuing performances such as these that have not seen the light of day for some time, often from defunct labels. In this case we have a deeply serious, big, four-movement symphony that does not give much away on a first hearing but enormously repays repeated listening and detailed study. It is coupled with a much more immediately attractive, shorter work that conceals its serious nature behind a frequently hilarious façade. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2012

‘Symphony No. 2 is a direct response to the sounds of the ocean’s extreme proximity, subtly permeating all of one’s existence’, writes Peter Maxwell Davies. It comments on his home situated in the Orkney Isles, part of the outreaches of Scotland where the Atlantic and North Sea meet. That gives rise to extreme climatic conditions, a fact made abundantly clear throughout the score. In writing about the First Symphony in my March review, I commented that Davies’s music ‘does not ask you to love it, and you will probably take time to come to terms with a very personal musical language that most would describe as atonal’. Of his three works in this genre, the Second most readily makes sense as a series of musical pictures, the movements following the four-movement pattern with the adagio coming second and a ghostly scherzo following. Completed in 1980 to a commission by the Boston Symphony for its centenary, it requires considerable technical virtuosity, not in an obvious way, but in its many solo passages—such as the horn in the second movement—and the impact unleashed in the outer movements. Lasting almost an hour, the disc is generously completed by the Thomas Wake, a foxtrot for orchestra on a pavan by John Bull. The idea came from the foxtrots played on gramophone records while the young Peter was sheltering from bombing raids in the Second World War, the score a mix of light music and the noise of exploding bombs  Surrealistic, it is equally demanding on the performers. This recording comes from a 1991 concert, the studio sessions for the Symphony being made two years later at a time when the BBC Philharmonic was enjoying its golden era. Previously appearing briefly on the Collins Classical label, the sound is highly detailed and of high impact. An outstanding release. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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