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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

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, January 2013

…[Peter Maxwell Davies’ Third Symphony] offers some of the most powerful sea music to be heard in contemporary composition. The opening movement moves from uneasy tonality to grinding dissonance of full and furious power, and then back again. The two shorter movements…also explore both architectural proportion and visual imagery…The finale takes the external representations of the opening movement and internalizes them, ruminates on them, enriches them harmonically, and brings them to an ambiguous…but affirming conclusion. It is a most satisfying journey.

…[Cross] Lane Fair…gains much of its considerable charm and character from Maxwell Davies’s imaginative use of Northumbrian pipes, and the flat, open Irish drum called a bodhrán.

The sound is every bit as evocative, full, and clear, as it was in the original releases almost twenty years ago. Here is Maxwell Davies’s finest symphony—arguably among the finest of the last century—now joined on disc by one of his most charming lighter works, in definitive recordings by the composer…this should not be missed. © 2013 Fanfare Read complete review

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, November 2012

There are many elements in this music of close seconds, shifting chromatics, and the type of writing that one heard in this composer’s Eight Songs for a Mad King, yet the long-range view of the music holds one’s attention from start to finish and the musical journey…is a rewarding one. By cleverly interweaving his short, bitonal and sometimes atonal themes, Maxwell Davies manages to create a coherent structure out of seemingly chaotic material, and occasionally the music coalesces into a somewhat tonal theme. These reference points keep the listener from feeling completely at sea…while being able to enjoy and follow the musical progression.

…this is the strongest of the three Maxwell Davies symphonies I’ve heard to date, and the one most likely to be appreciated in any symphonic concert devoted to new music.

I am…struck—as I often am in this composer’s music—by the tremendous emotional pull one feels as the score progresses. Maxwell Davies is not one of these cerebral composers who writes simply to fulfill some inner drive toward complexity for complexity’s sake. He has something to say, and therefore we, as listeners, have a certain obligation to understand what he is driving at.…this is a great work.

Cross Lane Fair…reflects the lighter side of the composer, and between you and me I like the fact that he has a lighter side. Composers who are deadly serious all the time tend to wear on one’s nerves after a while. This particular piece was written in 1994 and performed that year by the same forces heard here: Mark Jordan on Northumberland pipes, Rob Lea on the bodhran (a traditional Irish drum), and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by the composer. Maxwell Davies’s ingenuity in working these unusual instruments into the standard orchestral texture is more integrated and less in the nature of a concerto—more like a concerto grosso. I am particularly amazed, and amused, by the bodhran solo at the conclusion of “The Juggler,” which is not only virtuosic but sounds much more like swing music than indigenous Irish folk music…

I can recommend this disc most highly. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Daniel Coombs
Audiophile Audition, October 2012

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has been an important figure—maybe the most important—in post second world war English music for several decades.

His music has always been highly creative…These two pieces illustrate Davies’ bold and picturesque vision perfectly. The Symphony No. 3…is a dense, complex, structurally unique and brilliant work. I enjoy all of Sir Peter’s symphonies but this one is one of my favorites.

The orchestral suite Cross Lane Fair…is interesting and a bit entertaining that the North Umbrian pipes and a traditional Celtic drum, the bodhran, are included. The pipes, in fact, function like an ambient timbre in the midst of this series of sonic images (that include trains, sideshows and jugglers). The pipes close this very picturesque work in an ephemeral quiet way.

The more I have heard of Maxwell Davies’ music over the years, the more I respect and admire it. He is a truly important composer in the last half of the twentieth century and beyond and his influence, especially in the United Kingdom, will be felt for years to come. In fact, these pieces—this particular recording, conducted but the composer—are an excellent introduction to his music for the uninitiated. These are “modern” works with a very dramatic and accessible sensitivity that most listeners will find quite attractive. Highly recommended! © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

Mark Sealey
Classical Net, October 2012

Peter Maxwell Davies’s music is taut, strong, sinewy, expansive, orchestrally rich, sonically striking—and usually varied in temperament and genre… Here is a very welcome rerelease on Naxos of one of the studio recordings made of Max’s symphonic works by the BBC Philharmonic under the composer himself…

Oblique references to both plainchant and birdsong also add to the severe and, truly, oblique evocation in which Maxwell Davies succeeds so well over this extended period of time. Only an orchestra sympathetic to the composer’s idiom can really avoid losing the motion and at the same time can allow the slow, unfolding momentum make the wonderful impression that it does…The BBC Philharmonic is just such an orchestra.

Further, they convey particularly well the almost oppressive presence of the sea: at the time he wrote the Third Symphony, Maxwell Davies was living in a small, isolated cottage at the confluence of the Atlantic and North Sea where its mood, its indifference to everything, its threat and at the same time its bounty are inescapable. These qualities as reflected in the music are amply suggested by the BBC Philharmonic. They are at pains not to curb the music’s appeal by restricting what it can communicate to us.

This of course is truly symphonic writing. And very effective it is. Maxwell Davies’s is clean, accessible music…Given the tradition of pastoral British music from Parry and Vaughan Williams to Britten, Maxwell Davies’ is a distinct voice…His music has the feeling of successful consolidation, rather than conscious innovation about it. And, again, the BBC Philharmonic is totally at home with that.

Cross Lane Fair was composed ten years after the Third Symphony, in 1994. It’s a very much lighter work: the orchestra is of chamber size with Northumbrian pipes (played by Mark Jordan) and the Irish drum, the bodhran (played by Rob Lea). The work is inspired by his memories of a fairground which Maxwell Davies visited as a child. More than a curiosity, it makes a nice contrast with the much more thought-provoking Third Symphony.

The acoustics of the recording are as expansive and spacious as they need to be. It seems likely that Naxos will now work its way through the other symphonies of this highly important composer, thereby making them available (again) and accessible, perhaps, to new audiences. This is all to the good, given the range and depth of Maxwell Davies’ musical thinking and accomplishments. No lover of contemporary symphonic music should miss the series. And these interpretations, conducted by the composer, are as persuasive as are likely to be made available. Recommended. © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, September 2012

[Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has] written nine symphonies so far, and this third one is among the best. It’s good to have the composer’s own recording of it back in circulation from Naxos.

The Symphony No. 3 is big work…There are some wonderfully evocative feelings and moods expressed in the symphony…this is a fascinating piece of music…

The brief, quarter-hour accompanying work is a lighter piece called Cross Lane Fair…it’s a genuine tone poem that evokes the sights and sounds of a fair the composer recalls from his childhood. Using pipes and bodhran (an Irish frame drum) as soloists with the orchestra, it’s quite a lot of fun.

It’s among the best-sounding albums I’ve heard from the Naxos group, with a wide stereo spread, a good depth of field, a realistic tonal balance, and a fairly clear midrange. © 2012 Classical Candor Read complete review

MusicWeb International, September 2012

Maxwell Davies certainly knows how to orchestrate effectively…Sound quality in both recordings is very good, especially when their age is taken into consideration.

…the performances first-rate. In all, this is an almost essential purchase for everyone interested in contemporary British music. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, August 2012

…I am so glad I reached out for this expanded re-release of the recording. First, of course, you get the symphony. It’s an orchestral free-for-all…The music is thoroughly modernoid, very ambitious, and wholly successful.

An excellent bonus is the presence of his 1994 “Cross Lane Fair,”…It shows Davies the painter of more literal sounds, a series of vignettes centered around an archaic country fair. Lot’s of humorous rusticity abounds…

So there you have it, a disk containing a symphony we shouldn’t miss and something light but extraordinarily well done, to leave us smiling. All at the Naxos price. Recommended! © 2012 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review, July 2012

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ Third Symphony and Cross Lane Fair were originally recorded in 1994-95 and released by Collins Classics.  The symphony, written in 1983, harks back to architectural principles of the Renaissance in its construction, but listeners will more likely hear in it the influence of Ralph Vaughan Williams: it combines a tonal painting of the sea with reproductions of birdsong and an overall contrast between the forces of Nature and the attempt by humans to impose order on them through careful proportion and elegant design…the symphony produces an overall impression of expansiveness and time stretching toward infinity, with prominent Lento and Adagio passages in its very lengthy first and fourth movements—each of which is longer than the two middle movements put together. Despite the broad reach of the music, the third movement, interestingly marked scorrevole e bisbigliando (“smoothly and whispering”), has some of the work’s most effective writing.  Cross Lane Fair, which dates to 1994, is a much lighter piece that uses only a chamber orchestra—augmented by Northumbrian pipes and the Irish drum called the bodhran.  This work’s sound is comparatively exotic, and its mood upbeat throughout, as befits music inspired by memories of a fair that the composer went to when he was a child.  Short transitional sections, reminiscent structurally of those in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, separate pieces that represent the fairground as a whole and such exotic features as a bearded lady, five-legged sheep and juggler.  Bright and forthright, Cross Lane Fair makes an effective contrast to the altogether darker and more meditative Third Symphony—and both performances here are as definitive as can be. ©

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2012

As with the Second Symphony, the Third is also a seascape that reflects Peter Maxwell Davies’s home situated in the Orkney Isles on the outreaches of Scotland. There he lives in one of the wildest and unpredictable parts of the British Isles, and if that is a place of turbulence, it is also a place where humans come face to face with the natural habitat and life of birds. Though in his programme note he also points to the influences of medieval chant and plainsong, that aspect will probably be far from the listener’s thoughts. The first movement—with its quiet opening that creates a sense of isolation—is substantial in length, but eventually gives way to a pair of relatively short scherzi that oscillate between extremes of dynamics. We are told they picture the inside of a church, the symmetry displayed in the second movement becoming distorted in the third. The finale, as long as some symphonies, boils and simmers before ending, as the work opened, in quiet isolation. It is certainly not a score that asks you to love it, and for the BBC Philharmonic it must have presented many challenges, but they are never apparent in this outstanding performance. We then move to a town in northern England adjacent to the city of Manchester. It is the 1930’s, the annual fair has just arrived, and Davies recalls being taken there in nine linked pictures that include the fairground, juggler, roundabout and ghost train. Easy to listen to and full of fun, it could hardly be more different to the symphony. Both performances—recorded in 1993 and 1994—were at one time available on Collins Classics, the sound outstanding even by today’s standards. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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