Peter Maxwell Davies / BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Peter Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 1; Mavis in Las Vegas

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In the music of Peter Maxwell Davies, strands of British tradition are reconciled with international modernism. This recording of the Symphony No. 1, with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by the composer, originally appeared on the small Collins Classics label; it was reissued in 2012 by Naxos, complete with the composer's own valuable notes, as part of the label's thorough treatment of Maxwell Davies' works. The largely atonal palette, the division of each movement into shorter gestures, and the atomized treatment of the orchestra all suggest the influence of serialism (when the work was composed in the mid-'70s it would have been Boulez in the air, and Maxwell Davies has pointed to that composer's Pli selon pli as a model). Yet the music settles into tonal reference points and melodic passages, ultimately evoking the landscape of the Orkney Islands where Maxwell Davies lived and which he loved (and still does). The small motives, as they evolve over the four movements, bring to mind both Beethoven and Sibelius. It may be true that composers are not usually the best interpreters of their own works, but in atmospheric material of this kind they're certainly strong candidates, and the booklet notes may well be worth the purchase price (they're also available online for download customers). The program finale, Mavis in Las Vegas (1997), whose name originates from a Sin City hotel clerk's mispronunciation of Maxwell Davies' name, is a less significant work, but as an introduction to the composer the Symphony No. 1 makes a good choice. The strong engineering of the original remains undamaged in the Naxos reissue.

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