Wednesday 8 March 2017

A new release from Naxos brings some wonderful chamber works by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in performances that could not be bettered

Naxos have done much for the music of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016) , not only through their reissue of recordings from the Collins Classics catalogue but with their commissioning of the ten Naxos Quartets premiered and recorded by the Maggini Quartet.

A new release from Naxos continues this work with premiere recordings of chamber works mainly from the composer’s later years, Sonata for Violin Alone, Dances from The Two Fiddlers, Sonata for Violin and Piano and Piano Trio: A Voyage to Fair Isle.


Sonata for Violin Alone (2013) is one of Max’s last works; first performed at Teatro Piccolo Arsenale in Venice by its dedicatee the violinist Duccio Ceccanti who gives here the World Premiere Recording.

In a single movement the sonata opens with intense chords that are woven through some wonderful sonorities, through exquisitely turned phrases from Duccio Ceccanti. There are some quite lovely little high notes that suddenly contrast against more dynamic phrases before the music finds a faster rhythmic section before continuing its more leisurely forward moving development. Ceccanti provides some very fine harmonies, sonorities and timbres in this quite wonderful outpouring of musical invention. After fading to silence midway, the music suddenly picks up in an intense, faster section with this violinist providing the most wonderful playing. Soon a gentler forward flow is found with further fine sonorities still punctuated by intense, dynamic phrases. Eventually there is a faster rhythmic dancing passage with a terrific forward drive. There are more quite lovely gentler phrases before the music achieves a lovely, gentle flow with glorious harmonies to lead to a beautifully spun coda that rises high in the violin’s register before a final chord.

This is a quite wonderful work from this great composer’s final years, brilliantly played by its dedicatee. The recording is clear and vibrant despite being recorded in a large acoustic.

Duccio Ceccanti is joined by pianist Matteo Fossi for Dances from The Two Fiddlers (version for violin and piano) (1978/88) in another World Premiere Recording. The dances are taken from Max’s opera The Two Fiddlers which was first performed at Kirkwall, Orkney in June 1978. This arrangement by the composer for violin and piano was premiered by György Pauk and Peter Frankl in 1988. The violin opens with a tentative idea that very quickly develops into a Scottish style dance to which the piano joins. The music is developed through some terrific variations, finding a slower tempo, with a Scottish snap, through a staccato section, slowly gaining in richer textures. Later there is a faster rhythmic Scottish dance for violin against which the piano brings discordant phrases, creating a great texture. Pizzicato violin phrases lead to a lovely variation of the Scottish theme, with some terrific little details before the piano takes the theme over which the violin adds lovely sonorities before taking quickly off to a vibrant conclusion.

Duccio Ceccanti and pianist Bruno Canino give the World Premiere Recording of the Sonata for Violin and Piano (2008).  Italian architecture loomed large in Max’s musical inspiration and here, in the composer’s words he ‘traces an imaginary traffic free walk across Rome…from Borromini’s Chiesa Nuova… to the Gianicolo, from where one has a breath-taking view over the whole city.’  

The piano opens with a phrase to which the violin joins, a rather melancholy theme that is soon overtaken by more violent discordant piano phrases. The leisurely pace continues for both players with little dissonances appearing for piano, Ceccanti and Canino bringing some finely shaped phrases. Soon a fast and furious section tumbles forward with complex rhythms and harmonies. The violin brings a longer melody against a disruptive piano idea before moving through some exquisite moments set against more aggressive piano phrases. There are some wonderful moments where both soloists bring the most distinctive ideas, harmonies and intervals, drawing some fine, dark colours. Occasionally the music is almost schizophrenic in its wild outbursts. Later there is a brief solo passage for violin of cadenza like virtuosity, soon slowing as piano and violin lead through a melancholy slow section.  A leisurely tune appears for piano with the violin soon joining in this lovely moment. However it is soon broken up as the theme becomes disjointed. It recovers to a slow, sad flow with sudden little dancing phrases appearing. The music moves through a further slow passage with quite lovely harmonies before finding a more dramatic, aggressive stance. The music rushes forward through swirling phrases with a gentle hushed violin chord at the end.

Piano Trio: A Voyage to Fair Isle (2002) received its first performance, with the Grieg Piano Trio, in Kongsberg, Norway in 2003 and is inspired by a trip to Fair Isle for the first ever music festival held there. Again in one movement, it is performed here by pianist Matteo Fossi, violinist Duccio Ceccanti and cellist Vittorio Ceccanti .

The cello brings a long held note around which the violin weaves harmonies as the music slowly moves ahead as though through the mists. A deeper cello is joined by fragmented phrases from the piano, creating a terrific atmosphere. The violin and piano move gently forward, soon joined by the deep tones of the cello, adding a weight and depth. It is wonderful how one can hear the melody subtly appearing through the musical texture. Suddenly the music finds a vibrant, energetic rhythmic propulsion before the violin brings lovely harmonies. The piano alone brings a gentle passage to which the violin joins before a fast and furious section in this ever changing land and seascape. Later a rhythmic dancing theme appears for violin which is developed, before the cello adds a slow melancholy idea. The piano joins through passages of deeply melancholic atmosphere with the violin bringing lovely harmonies. The solo cello takes the sad melody through some fine harmonies before the violin provides harmonies over a pizzicato cello. All three pick up the pace through terrific passages as they head to a frantic dancing rhythm before a hushed coda.

This new release brings some wonderful chamber works in performances that could not be bettered. The last three works receive excellent recordings in warmer acoustics. There are informative booklet notes. 

I do hope that Naxos follow up this terrific release with even more of Maxwell Davies’ music. 


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