COMPOSERS: Maxwell Davies
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Points and Dances from Taverner
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Simon Rattle; Fires of London/Peter Maxwell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 473 721-2 Reissue (1978, 1973)
‘Simon Rattle & Peter Maxwell Davies’ is the title of the CD, though Universal clearly thinks PMD is the junior member of the partnership; his name appears under Rattle’s in much smaller type. That, and the numerous typos in the booklet notes, are the only irritations in what is otherwise a very welcome reissue. It includes the 1978 recording of the First Symphony made by Simon Rattle when he was still a Bright Young Thing, and an even earlier recording of Points and Dances from Maxwell Davies’s opera about the Tudor composer-turned-secret-agent John Taverner. As you’d expect, these are the more approachable items on the CD, and their strange crepuscular sound-world, dominated by guitar, harpsichord, alto flute and organ, is indeed engrossing. The performances by the Fires of London under the composer’s direction are full of character and rhythmic life, but musically the pieces seem a little thin, especially compared with the wonders of the First Symphony.
This CD confirms that this Symphony really is the masterwork it appeared to be at the time, and it puts the subsequent ones in the shade. The performance, too, is masterly, revealing with dramatic clarity the way different layers of the music move and evolve at different speeds. Ivan Hewett