Maxwell Davies: Strathclyde Concertos

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COMPOSERS: Peter Maxwell Davies
ALBUM TITLE: Maxwell Davies: Strathclyde Concertos
WORKS: Strathclyde Concertos Nos 2, 3 & 4; Sonata for cello and piano (Sequentia Serpentigena); Dances from The Two Fiddlers; Little Tune for Vittorio in Maremma for solo cello
PERFORMER: Strathclyde Concertos Nos 3 & 4: Robert Cook (horn), Peter Francks (trumpet), Lewis Morrison (clarinet); Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Peter Maxwell Davis; Rest: Vittorio Ceccanti (cello), Bruno Canino (piano); Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI/Peter Maxwell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: Concerto No. 2 etc: 8572353; Concertos 3 & 4: 8572353


There’s something unnerving about Peter Maxwell Davies’s sheer productivity. Where other composers write one or two of a particular genre, he writes an entire batch, like a Baroque Kapellmeister: ten Strathclyde Concertos, ten Naxos String Quartets. Modern composers aren’t supposed to be like that; they’re supposed to agonise over each one. Then there’s that title, Strathclyde Concerto, which doesn’t exactly make the heart go pit-a-pat.

These half-articulated prejudices, plus a dim memory of the not-very-exciting premieres all those years ago, made me approach these two CDs with a heavy heart. In the event I was pleasantly surprised. All three Concertos had their striking moments, and two of them had something more important than that, a convincing and powerful form. The Cello Concerto, premiered in 1989, works its way inwards to a deeply expressive central Lento, beautifully played here by Vittorio Ceccanti, and outwards again to an Allegro, only to have this symmetry capped by a rapt final Lentissimo.

The Clarinet Concerto, premiered a year later, is imbued with a subtly Scottish flavour, which in the opening Allegro movement is only hinted at, and in the final movement finally blossoms into a Gaelic folk-song. Again a central Adagio provides a still core to the work, played here with quiet intensity by Lewis Morrison. The Double Concerto for Horn and Trumpet seemed somewhat arid in comparison, though one had to admire the virtuosity of the two soloists Robert Cook and Peter Franks, pinioned against one another in the central cadenza like a pair of grappling eagles. Having immersed myself in both CDs, I came away more puzzled than ever by the enigma that is Maxwell Davies. Could the composer of the sweetly naïve Little Tune for cellist Vittorio Ceccanti really have penned the dry angularities of the Double Concerto?  Strange, but true.


Ivan Hewett