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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Peter Maxwell Davies, Symphony No. 3, Cross Lane Fair, BBC Philharmonic

My apologies--back after a brief but heartily annoying indisposition. New music can surprise and elate, but not all that often. It happened to me with Peter Maxwell Davies' Symphony No. 3 (Naxos 8.572350). I blanked my mind as best I could before the first hearing. That first time through held me more or less spellbound. It's his 1984 opus recorded and released in that year by Davies and the BBC Philharmonic on a small label. It went unnoticed by some, at least by me--no wonder, that was a gruesome year for me, and by the time I could assess the damage to my existence that year had caused and carry on in musicland, it was nowhere to be seen, where I might have looked anyway (Tower Records in the Village). But I'm guilty anyway because I've never quite gotten around to a systematic exploration of the music of Maestro Davies, other than "Eight Songs for a Mad King". The fault is entirely my own and I do not have the slightest excuse. So there you are.

But I am so glad I reached out for this expanded re-release of the recording. First, of course, you get the symphony. It's an orchestral free-for-all, only decidedly it isn't free but rather carefully composed, and the "for all" orchestral treatment of the phrases can be in sections as much as or more so than flat-out tuttis. The treatment is somehow soft-focus much of the time. Sometimes the edges of the phrases are smoothed over by overlapping orchestration, so that you hear it as if behind a cerebral velvet screen of sorts. The music is thoroughly modernoid, very ambitious, and wholly successful.

To my way of thinking it establishes Peter Maxwell Davies as a major symphonist of our (recent) era. You might detect a hint of the flowing cosmos of Ives' Fourth, but ultimately it's all Peter Maxwell Davies.

An excellent bonus is the presence of his 1994 "Cross Lane Fair," a very real contrast to the symphony. It shows Davies the painter of more literal sounds, a series of vignettes centered around an archaic country fair. Lot's of humorous rusticity abounds, not the least of which is the purposefully out-of-tune set of Northumbrian pipes. It's something the hearing conveys much better than my telling.

So there you have it, a disk containing a symphony we shouldn't miss and something light but extraordinarily well done, to leave us smiling. All at the Naxos price. Recommended!

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