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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Peter Maxwell Davies, Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5

I covered Maxwell Davies' Symphony No. 3 several weeks ago on this site. We are back with Maxwell-Davies-conducted versions of his Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 (Naxos 8.572351), with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra, respectively.

What is true of No. 3 is generally true of 4 and 5 as well. If Boulez's orchestral music is often a sort of hard-edged, rapidly fracturing pointillism, the mature Davies gives us more of a soft-focus, more slowly unraveling variety. Not that Davies is in an all-andante mode, far from it. It is in the general pace, the presentation and combination of instrument families that this comparison applies.

No. 4 was written in 1989 and has four movements that do not sound neo-classically derived but break up into sections in similar ways and utilize the classical era orchestra in size and instrumentation. No. 5 comes from 1994 and is in one long movement, scored for a somewhat larger orchestra.

If I had to chose, I find No. 3 the more paradigmatic and aesthetically moving work. Symphonies 4 and 5 seem in many ways an extension of the music presented there. On the other hand the later symphonies complete the picture, so you'd probably do well getting both volumes, if you can swing it, especially given the Naxos price.

This volume has good sound and the performances are convincing.

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