Maxwell Davies: Worldes Blis; The Turn of the Tide; Sir Charles His Pavan

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Maxwell Davies
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Worldes Blis; The Turn of the Tide; Sir Charles His Pavan
PERFORMER: Children’s choirs from Manchester Cathedral, Manchester Grammar School Choir, RPO, BBC Philharmonic/Peter Maxwell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 13902 DDD
This disc is a useful introduction to Maxwell Davies’s music, as it shows his contrasting private and public faces. Worldes Blis is a very private piece which spins itself broodingly out of the opening plainsong melody, announced by a solo trombone. Over the next 40 minutes it gradually accumulates a darkly intense energy and momentum that’s discharged in the final climax. The sense of concentrated inwardness instilled by trombonist Christopher Mowat’s opening solo is sustained until the very end in this blazing performance, conducted by the composer himself.

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The performance is matched by the recording, which has been done with great tact. There are moments when you feel the engineers have given the composer a helping hand: for example, the harp counterpoint in the fifth section, which I suspect would be muffled in a live performance, here sounds wonderfully clear. At the same time it avoids that dry analytic closeness you get with so many contemporary recordings.

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The Turn of the Tide is a public piece, both in its scoring – a combination of professional orchestra and schoolchildren – and its theme; the threat of man-made environmental disaster. To my ears the piece seems a rather uneasy combination of Davies’s own brand of lean, angular counterpoint, and a picturesquely tonal style. The combined forces of four children’s choirs from Manchester acquit themselves magnificently in the final hymn to unsullied nature, but the piece itself is too self-conscious and contrived to hit the right jubilant note. Ivan Hewett