Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 5; Chat Moss; Cross Lane Fair; Five Klee Pictures

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COMPOSERS: Maxwell Davies
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Chat Moss; Cross Lane Fair; Five Klee Pictures
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra/Peter Maxwell Davies
Listeners in search of a Maxwell Davies primer could hardly do better than start with this disc. It contains music from his whole career, apart from the shrieking-nuns-and-mad-kings phase of the late Sixties, which might be counted a blessing. And it shows the composer at his most approachable. The earliest piece is the Five Klee Pictures, written in 1959 for the orchestra of the school where he was teaching. These are superbly witty miniatures, with exactly the mixture of whimsical charm and menace that imbues the Klee pictures. Cross Lane Fair, written 35 years later, is a touching but completely unsentimental evocation of a visit by the nine-year-old Maxwell Davies (impersonated here by Northumbrian pipes and Irish drum) to Salford Fair. The symphony might seem to be the odd one out among these picture-postcard pieces, but it, too, can be heard as a series of panels, some displaying one image, others in swirling movement.


Maxwell Davies’s recent music is often accused of greyness, but this symphony is as colourfully eventful as any of his occasional pieces, without any loss of overall coherence. The performances, directed by the composer himself, have exactly the taut energy and sense of line that the music needs. The recording is clear to a fault, but rather lacking in warmth. Ivan Hewett