Classical CD Reviews

PETER MAXWELL DAVIES: Symphony No. 6 – Time and the Raven – An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise – Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Peter Maxwell Davies – Naxos

Two out of the three works here are terrific!

Published on August 9, 2013

PETER MAXWELL DAVIES: Symphony No. 6 – Time and the Raven – An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise – Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Peter Maxwell Davies – Naxos 8.572352, 76:16 [11/12] *****:

This CD is a re-release of 1994 and 1996 material taken from the now defunct  Collins Classics label. The sound is spectacular, ranking in the demonstration class thanks in part to the composer’s gifted orchestration.

Some of Maxwell Davies’ music here takes some getting used to, but no more than Prokofiev or Bartok. For five decades Maxwell Davies has been busy composing serious music: opera, theatre, symphonic, ballet, concerti, string quartets and miscellaneous orchestral pieces, plus light works.

I had high hopes for the Symphony No. 6 (1996), but found it indigestible. For 49:27, the listener is subjected to three dirges, one worse than the other. There are lots of percussive effects, dissonance and miscellaneous jarring noises combined with strings that sound like the incidental music to travel across the River Styx.

Maxwell Davies dedicated the symphony to his friend George Mackay Brown, poet and author. He was  a friend of Maxwell Davies. The composer set to music for soprano and guitar Brown’s poem “Dark Angels.” The program notes for the symphony are by the composer who points out it was composed on commission to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations. Maxwell Davies was not a lover of nationalism.

The remaining two items on this compact disc are well worth the investment, even if their total time is only 26:50. The earliest work is An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise (1984). It is a genuine masterpiece, full of feeling combined with whimsy and with bagpipes to boot. It is raucous with melodies buried here and there to boot. Getting acquainted with this composition after several hearings, I found it enjoyable. Incidentally, Maxwell Davies lives in the Orkney Islands.

Richard Whitehouse  provides the enlightening explanation for An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise. Now, if only all program notes on the inlay booklets would be so useful and readable. But not in such a small font that requires either bright lights or a magnifying glass for we seniors.

Time and the Raven (1995) has nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe. Rather “…the Raven becomes a symbol of warning; in my work, dark music hints at what could be…,” according to the program notes which quote the composer. These notes by David Nice compare this work with Prokofiev’s Russian Overture (1936), both occasional overtures. In Time and the Raven Maxwell Davies treats an Australian aboriginal song to such change as to be unrecognizable, then covers a broad selection of made-up national anthems, ending with a rambunctious fortissimo coda.

This is highly recommended! There are other Naxos releases of Davies’ music, conducted by the composer, from the former Collins Classics label, including Symphonies Nos. 1 – 5.

—Zan Furtwangler




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