WORKS: Sonata notturna; Life Studies
PERFORMER: Raphael Wallfisch (cello); English String Orchestra/William Boughton
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5471 DDD
Nicholas Maw is a curious composer, capable of transcendent music teeming with real individuality, as demonstrated here by his Life Studies for fifteen solo strings, dating from the Seventies and possibly his greatest work. The two pieces recorded for the first time are, however, in different ways problematic. In Sonata notturna (1985), the lack of anything to say with manners borrowed so evidently from the English tradition of writing for string orchestra is distressing. This work in four continuous sections for cello and strings concludes with an extended, though oddly dislocated capriccio that unbalances the whole structure by occupying half the work’s 24 minutes. But the performances of both works, strong on atmosphere, are first-rate. Raphael Wallfisch is an eloquent soloist in the Sonata, though the recorded balance rather over-favours him.
The four Dance Scenes are a 19-minute orchestral romp, occupying a CD single, written to celebrate the centenary of a City firm and premiered by the Philharmonia last September. They are brilliantly orchestrated and brilliantly performed here under the young Rattle protégé, Daniel Harding. Dance Scenes, though, is pure occasional music: to be heard once, preferably live and after toasting commerce’s willingness to fund – at any rate in part, for there was Arts Council money in this commission too – only the most obviously palatable music of our time. Keith Potter