Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 6; Time and the Raven

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COMPOSERS: Maxwell Davies
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Time and the Raven
PERFORMER: RPO/Peter Maxwell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 14822
The dedication to the poet George Mackay Brown, who died earlier this year, suggests that the elegiac air hanging over Max’s latest symphony is directly attributable to the loss of a fellow Orcadian and a great man of letters. But in truth this three-movement symphony was all but complete before Mackay Brown died, so it is Maxwell Davies himself who from inner feelings, not outer provocation, has become reflective, tragic, and almost serene. Certainly there is little in his previous five symphonies to compare with the sombre sweep of the closing Adagio, a brooding epic of funereal pathos uplifted by poignant solos and high, mesmeric string writing.

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This symphony has great appeal, even on first acquaintance. It starts slowly, too, and despite flurries of activity and much chiding from the tambourine remains reluctant to embrace the official marking of Allegro. The apparent skittishness is unsettling, until you read the composer’s admission that this opening movement is really a scherzo. There is a greater sense of direction in the central movement, which allows the tender melodic fragments to grow in stature despite a generous measure of percussive disruption.

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The overture Time and the Raven is a tease, composed for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, full of false pomp and hesitant pride. Christopher Lampton