A Panufnik * Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

Symphonies No. 10 sung by baritone Markus Butter with the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Antonio Pappano.

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COMPOSERS: A Panufnik,Peter Maxwell Davies
LABELS: LSO Live
ALBUM TITLE: A Panufnik * Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
WORKS: Symphony No. 10; Symphony No. 10
PERFORMER: Markus Butter (baritone); London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0767 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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The circumstances surrounding the creation of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s Tenth Symphony are remarkable indeed. Diagnosed early in 2013 with cancer, Davies decided to fulfil his long-standing wish to compose a symphonic tribute to the Renaissance architect Francesco Borromini, whose work he first encountered as a composition student in Rome. This large-scale work is in four movements, two for orchestra alone (an opening Adagio and a speedy Scherzo), alternating with others in which some of Borromini’s own writings (set for solo baritone) are intercut with passages for chorus, including a sonnet by Giacomo Leopardi and another, anonymous one denouncing Borromini and his work.

The whole idea might sound ponderous, but isn’t, thanks to Davies’s invention at its finest: besides the trademark hyperactivity, the music also has a sense of genuine space which includes benignly tonal harmony, so that the choral passages, while demanding, are a realistic proposition for a symphony-orchestra chorus. The interplay between Markus Butter’s singing of Borromini’s own words (including his description of his attempted suicide) and quiet choral interjections is beautifully judged here, and is matched by superlative orchestral playing throughout.

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Antonio Pappano directs an equally fine performance of a very different Tenth Symphony – composed by Sir Andrzej Panufnik in 1988, and developing its taut, 15-minute design from the interaction of chant-like orchestral lines with small, rotating musical cells. The result is lucid, emotionally charged and memorable. Malcolm Hayes