Hebrides Ensemble

The Last Island: Chamber Music by Peter Maxwell Davies

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Do Scots musicians play the compositions of Peter Maxwell Davies better than others? The Hebrides Ensemble makes a strong affirmative case in this collection of late Maxwell Davies works, including his final unfinished composition, a String Quartet Movement (2016), that quite hauntingly fades into the void. That, and most of the other music, is abstract in form but refers either explicitly or in general mood to the Orkney Islands, where Maxwell Davies spent much of his life. The String Trio quotes folk music, yet the music is not folkloric; it looks outward both geographically and musically from Scotland in fascinating ways. Sample the Oboe Quartet for its novel use of plainchant and for the eerie, almost electronic oboe tone of Emanuel Abb├╝hl. The latter is just one of the instrumental pleasures to be discovered here from an ensemble that is both deeply sympathetic to the music and has the technical wherewithal to plumb its depths. Some of the pieces are death-haunted, but ultimately this is marvelous, life-affirming stuff. Highly recommended, although the church sound diminishes the intimacy a bit.

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