Performed by Richard Casey
Prima Facie PFCDO17/018
As one of the UK’s most prominent composers of the 20th century Peter Maxwell Davies took his music from Britain, and shared his vision with both passion and an individual diversity of musical palette.This release brings together for us, a wonderful collection of solo piano works by, Maxwell Davies, who, many believe, was one of our greatest composers. He certainly was very prolific, and one of the most diverse and creative british artists ever to tread this land, who has also been an inspirational force, and major influence of many composers and performers, in equal measure! Recorded in Peel Hall, Salford University, with it’s fine acoustics, it is an important addition to the large catalogue of recordings of the composers works. With extensive, well detailed notes by amercian born pianist Stephen Pruslin, a expert on contemporary music, and having specifically worked with Maxwell Davies, are included in a beautifully designed booklet.
Maxwell Davies was actually a pianist himself, having received a pretty good formal training as a piano soloist, indeed, giving a number of recitals whilst still a young man. With this in mind, approaching his solo works with an understanding of a thorough pianistic technique, added to his compositional skills, bring us an important collection of his works for piano, to the listening public. This double CD release by Prima Facie records, is, as you’d expect, like all their releases, is stunning in it’s production and attention to detail – for example, as I’ve already mentioned, the booklet, artwork and photographs.
Obviously, with 40 individual tracks, there certainly isn’y enough space here to review, in detail, each one. So, I have selected a few pieces from each disc, which I regard as highlights and one’s which I will certainly play regularly on my radio show!
A large scale, and certainly the most trickiest piece, in this collection, to bring off in performance. Written in 1981 for, and premiered by, Stephen Pruslin that year, at Bath Festival. It is written in 7 movements, of which the first, certainly spells out the composers intention to take both the performer, and listener, on a journey of power, reflection, and everything in between. From the sparse beginning of the first movement, from which, in a way, the whole work seems to stem from, through various episodes of pianistic fever, with virtuosic patterns of sound, we are totally taken into the musical imagination of Maxwell Davies’s world. Such a wonder of musical material is woven together, with various titles, such as the ‘Grave’ movement, and a ‘Cantabile’ (song like) one, the sometimes overwhelming, even aggressive, energy also gets in to our heads and bodies, in equal measure! Although written, and titled, as a Sonata, it certainly isn’t the expected sonata structure, but never the less, it does work on that level, in a startling, structural composition. Listening to it now, nearly 40 years after completion, it certainly is a Sonata for the 21st century.
Five Pieces for Piano.
Written between 1960 – 1964, we have a set of five, short pieces. Each with a specific character of it’s own, whilst making a complete soundscape too, when played in succession, as here. Spinning around your head, and leaving you slightly, well, I don’t know really – you decide. The composer referred to these, as ’the children’ of the Op.2 set, of which I’ll also speak of later.
Farewell to Stromness.
This work is probably one of the composers best known, to a wider public, by much radio air play, including my own radio show, and is certainly a piece very lyrical in content. Starting out with simple, single bass notes, before bringing a delightful, with an almost traditional, Scottish feel, then enters a more melancholic tune, before a return to the beginning. It’s a perfect introduction to the composers music, as it’s so approachable, but also a bit of an ‘earworm’, and you’ll feel it new and familiar at the same time. A true miniature of the piano. The village of Stromness, on Orkney, the composers home, and is a town in the south western part of the island.
Five Pieces for Piano, Op.2
The second set of five pieces by the composer on this album, however written earlier between 1955 – 1956. The individual pieces are also, more substantial, from a compositional point of view and duration too. As before in the other set, each has an individual character, whilst as a set, make a complete musical statement. Written for himself to play, he hoped from the beginning, that other pianists would enjoy them, and play them, as I suppose all composers do actually. As I mentioned earlier, he was a trained pianist, and this certainly comes out in these, demanding works, as he shows us his individual performance capability.
Sub Tuam Protectionem
Based on an organ work of John Dunstable, providing both a collision and duet of the two composers, nearly 500 years apart. The idea sounds a little perturbing , maybe, but such is the genius of Maxwell Davies, he makes it work, and so we sit back and admire it for what it is. The composers continuous contrapuntal feel, takes us, almost like the equivalent of a ‘musical time lord’ jumping from century to century as he absorbs all the music before him and delivers it to us in this audio imagery.
Now, this, is a delightful addition to the CD, and very appropiate ending to the collection. Here we have the performer Richard Casey discussing with Peter Maxwell Davies talking about some of the works featured on the CDs. This is such a highlight as we hear the insight from the composer, whilst seeing/hearing the performers conviction of interpretation. Such an opportunity to hear a master of composition discussing his works in detail and opening both his mind and heart to us as listeners, is an opportunity not to be missed – one definitely for posterity I’m certain!!
So, all in all, a wonderful set of recordings and very important for fans old and new of the music of Maxwell Davies. There are so many inventive touches of a master composer at work here, that these few words can only ever hope to try and get the interest of the reader to trust me, and give all the tracks a thorough repeated play. From miniatures of imagery, to more complex, large scale pieces, the recording has all you could want to an introduction to his piano music – hopefully, too, you’ll seek out his orchestral, chamber, opera, works too! Check out Prima Facie records to get yourself a copy and more info.