Davies, Peter Maxwell: Solstice of Light; Five Carols; Hymn to the Word of God

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COMPOSERS: Davies,Peter Maxwell
LABELS: Argo
WORKS: Solstice of Light; Five Carols; Hymn to the Word of God
PERFORMER: Neil Mackie (ten); Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/ Stephen Cleobury
CATALOGUE NO: 436 119-2 DDD
As the Maxwell Davies production line continues to pour out concertos, ballets and occasional orchestral pieces in a never-ending profusion, it’s sometimes hard to remember that his work list also boasts a number of highly accomplished choral pieces. The earliest of them dates back to the Sixties, the time of the Five Carols recorded here, when Davies’s fascination with medieval and Renaissance techniques was still shaping and controlling all his music. The carols are beautiful three-part settings, some of the most underrated additions to the English choral repertory in this century, and exquisitely done by the King’s College Choir here. The other miniature, Hymn to the Word of God, is brand-new but far less striking, schematic in a way that Davies’s earlier music never was.

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Solstice of Light is a tougher, more ambitious proposition altogether. It’s an Orkney work from 1979, settings of a series of poems by the local writer George Mackay Brown which chronicle the history of the islands in a succession of vivid images. The plain, gravely beautiful choral sections alternate with virtuoso organ interludes; the solo tenor embroiders the lines and points their morals. It is a compelling, enchanted work which belongs with the very best of Davies’s music from that rich decade. Andrew Clements