Peter Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Peter Maxwell Davies
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: The Lighthouse
PERFORMER: Neil Mackie, Christopher Keyte, Ian Comboy; BBC Philharmonic/ Peter Maxwell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 14152 DDD
The second of Maxwell Davies’s two chamber operas has proved the most successful of his stage works. It has had some 80 productions since its premiere at the 1980 Edinburgh Festival, and I have spotted it among the schedules of several Continental opera companies this season. The opera comprises a Prologue, in which a court of inquiry hears from a supply ship’s officers about the strange disappearance of three keepers from a remote lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides, and a single act, subtitled ‘The Cry of the Beast’, that portrays the disappearance, though without offering any solution to the mystery. Musically, it is a rich mixture of beautifully scored atmosphere (claustrophobic and mysterious), quirky parody (in the songs for each of the keepers) and strong musical narrative, dominated by a pervasive rhythmic motif to the words ‘the lighthouse is now automatic’.

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This, the opera’s first recording, continues the wonderfully fruitful relationship between the composer and Collins. It was taped live (though one would never guess from the lack of audience noise), with a couple of old hands from Fires of London days joining a chamber ensemble from the BBC Philharmonic. The three singers share all the roles – officers and keepers – and could hardly be bettered, strong character actors all of them. A fine recording of one of the most fascinating and approachable operas of the last couple of decades. Matthew Rye