Peter Maxwell Davies: Black Pentecost; Stone Litany

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COMPOSERS: Peter Maxwell Davies
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Black Pentecost; Stone Litany
PERFORMER: Della Jones (mezzo-soprano), David Wilson-Johnson (baritone); BBC Philharmonic/Peter Maxwell Davies
Stone Litany remains one of the most evocative of all Maxwell Davies’s scores, the orchestral tour de force that in 1973 first defined the luminous sound-world of his Orkney period. In celebrating the islands and their history with these settings of runic graffiti from a neolithic burial chamber, Davies consummated the marriage between lyrical expression and musical rigour that characterised the best of his Orkney works. The luscious writing for mezzo-soprano ideally needs a richer timbre than Della Jones’s, but the attack and immediacy of her singing and the subtle responses of the BBC Philharmonic ensure that the textural web is seamlessly spun.


Black Pentecost, Davies’s urgent protest against the plans for uranium mining on the Orkneys, is a darker work altogether. Though lacking the rigour and concentration of the best of its predecessors, it is still an impressive score, especially when delivered as graphically as this. With hindsight its orchestral gestures and scoring prefigure the symphonic Davies, the composer who in the following decade would write three more symphonies and a multitude of concertos and leave that world of enchantment far behind. Andrew Clements