Maxwell Davies: Vesalii Icones

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COMPOSERS: Maxwell Davies
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Vesalii Icones; Linguae Ignis; Fantasia on a Ground and Two Pavans
PERFORMER: Vittoria Ceccanti (cello); Contempoartensemble/Mauro Ceccanti
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572712

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Having commissioned, recorded and released the ten Naxos Quartets, the Naxos label consolidates its relationship with Peter Maxwell Davies by facilitating the world premiere recording of his 2002 Linguae Ignis. This piece is appositely coupled with Vesalii Icones, also featuring a solo cello, and, somewhat bafflingly, his fruity reimagining of Purcell. Sadly there’s nothing remotely fruity about Mauro Ceccanti’s irredeemably po-faced Purcellian excursion, and the wind-up-gramophone gag in the Second Pavan falls distinctly flat.

But there’s a bigger trick missed. Vesalli Icones unites the anatomical drawings of Vesalius and the reverential Stations of the Cross, and it sparks a dialogue between a concertante cellist and dancer, something not easy to capture when Maxwell Davies recorded the piece following its 1969 premiere. In the age of DVD, however, a ‘complete’ Vesalii Icones ought to have been a priority; then again the CD does at least restore this work (a significant contemporary of the Eight Songs for a Mad King) to the catalogue – a download of Maxwell Davies’s original (and preferable) recording is now no longer available.

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At the opening of Linguae Ignis, Vittorio Ceccanti’s lyrical traversal of the cello-articulated plainsong hints at a persuasive predilection towards the elegiac, but this is a quality rarely demanded by the Vesalii Icones, a score that needs to live on its nerve endings. Here they’re somewhat cauterised in a performance that lacks the sense of theatre so intrinsic to Davies’s exactingly delineated, idiosyncratic vision. Paul Riley