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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 August 2012
The record label Collins origninally recorded these works along with manty other Maxwell Davies works. The loss of that label had been Naxos's gain as they continue to reissue much of their catalogue. I'm not convinved by all Maxwell Davies' symphonies though Nos 2 and 5 are unquestionable masterpieces to me and I like the Sixth too.

This finely recorded performance of the Second is a treat. It is inspired by the seascape around the Orkneys but the descriptions of observing patterns of movement by the composer shouldn't put you off with their hints at abstraction rather than scene painting. This is a long symphony that has the abstract formal sense to hold together from beginning to end but does have a pictorial element.

The symphony, in four movements, includes a dramatic opening movement, scintillating scherzo and a rich slow movement. The finale acts as a big summing up with a masterful acceleration from a slow march opening before coming to a quieter conclusion.

Tightly organised as the symphony is it is one of his most sumptuously orchestrated works where the percussion glitters like glistening sunlight on the waves. There's plenty that is dark and dramatic but it is never allowed to overwhelm the balance of the work. It's a wonderful work that celebrates not just the sea but the symphonic legacies of both Sibelius and Vaughan Williams.

St Thomas Wake dates from the late 1960s and combines his more expressionistic musical language with foxtrots and other popular music of the 1940s. It might seem like light relief after the epic symphony but has a biting sardonic edge. It lasts about twenty minutes and its bite prevents it from becoming a nostalgic ball of fluff or light comedy. This is, again, brilliantly orchestrated with the central dance band wrapped and entwined within the full orchestral commentary. As the music fades at the end you sense this is a darker and more serious work than the foot tapping dance hall caricatures in the central section might have you believe. It's remarkable work; like the symphony, superbly executed here. Neither work could be called populist, even with the dance hall music, but both are rivetting from beginning to end.

This is a really terrific recording. With Naxos re releasing other Maxwell Davies recordings from Collins there's much to look forward to.
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on 16 June 2012
I'm liking these long and deeply abstract symphonies composed and conducted by Peter Maxwell Davies, performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, re-released on Naxos... Symphony No.2 has a surging and sublime quality which will appeal to those who have a fondness for twisty symphonic escapades. The sound-world transports the listener to places both naturalistic and mythical. There's a harsh realism here, yet also a dreaming-eye that perhaps wants more mystery. All in all the symphony is a subtle creation: solitude strikes out with serious swipes while a flowing variety stimulates the senses. - The tone poem "St. Thomas Wake" is a tricksy work which invokes Gershwin-esque shenanigans yet remains avant-garde in essence.
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Ravel, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Britten, Bridge, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, Glazunov and others composed works describing or inspired by the sea. So did the now sadly late Peter Maxwell Davies, and he really went to town (so to speak) with a four-movement second symphony lasting nearly an hour, during which we hear and 'see' the sea in all its moods and configurations.
In his booklet notes, the composer talks about the two different types of waves he had observed, by 1980, when this was written, having lived in Orkney for almost a decade, where you can't escape the sea and where it must frequently be tempestuous as well as relatively calm. But there are many 'types of sea' to be heard in this utterly absorbing, intricate, bracingly unsentimental work. Like most of this composer's music, it repays many hearings, always allowing the listener in, as if he's leaving space and time for us to interact with his music, rather than being merely passive hearers.
St Thomas Wake, from 1969 ~ a 'Foxtrot for Orchestra on a pavan by John Bull' ~ is great fun, as Max's music can often be. {Have a listen, if you can find it, to his Eight Songs For a Mad King. It really is something else!} He can also be austere, but it's that mix of the austere and the tongue-in-cheek, the merry and the melancholy, which for me gives his music much of its attraction.
This is from the earlier Collins recording, as are all the Naxos reissues of his music, and the sound is clear and detailed. They're all well worth collecting.

Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 19 May 2016
Every so often I return to the music of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and find I just can't listen to anyone else. This symphony is not so much an evocation of the sea as an experience of it. When will 7, 8 and 9 be released?
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