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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maxwell Davies: Symphony No.6, 17 Nov 2012
This review is from: Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 6- Time and the Raven / An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise (Audio CD)
Master of the Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (b.1934), is a truly versatile composer who can write serious music, such as his rigoriously argued symphonic cycle, alongside occasional pieces and other small-scale works with a popular appeal. In its re-release of the Collins Classics recordings, Naxos succeeds in showing off the diversity of the composer's output. On the present disc, the Symphony No.6 is coupled with "Time and the Raven", composed for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and the ever-popular "Orkney Wedding with Sunrise".

No-one can pretend that the Maxwell Davies symphonies make for easy listening. They are tough, uncompromising works, as rugged as the Orkney landscape in which most of them were written. Perhaps the Symphony No.6 of 1996, with its long periods of quiet, brooding contemplation counterbalancing its more disturbed moments, is as good a place as any to begin one's exploration. Evenso, great efforts of concentration are required in order to engage with the work.

The first movement is predominantly dark and brooding, with lonely wind solos and spectral strings. The quicker passages require individual virtuosity as wisps of theme are tossed from one instrument to another. The second movement, "a mirror of the first", as the composer describes it, again begins slowly, with huge timpani strokes leading to a solemn brass theme. After a climax the music picks up momentum, although temporal changes are frequent, imbuing the music with a restless feel. The third movement, too, has a slow, brooding introduction, this time in the strings, rather Mahlerian in tone, and expressively beautiful. This extended string passage seems to be at the contemplative heart of the work. Eventually, woodwind and brass break in upon the reverie, without ever really disturbing the slow tempo. Despite the occasional rumbling, the movement rarely rises above pianissimo, and much of the writing is of chamber proportions. At last, with one anguished cry from the brass, followed by receding timpani strokes, the music fades into oblivion.

"Time and the Raven" (1995) is perhaps best described as an occasional overture in which Davies emulates a range of national anthems and songs without, however, quoting any actual ones other than an Australian aboriginal song. The slow introduction is thematically related to the Sixth Symphony. Theme succeeds theme so that the overall effect is that of a musical collage. One solemn melody heard near the beginning, and later on solo flute, is particularly nationalistic in feeling, and especially memorable. After a final imposing climax, there follows a brief, joyful coda before the music unexpectedly fades out.

"An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise" (1984) is a musical representation of an actual wedding Davies attended. The celebrations extended far into the night, so that by the time the revellers headed for home, the sun (represented here by the bagpipes) was rising. Naturally, as befits such an occasion, there is a good deal of skirling and reeling, and a measure of tipsy playing from the local band. With its distinctive Scottish folksong feel, this is one of Davies's most endearing and accessible creations.

On this recording, Maxwell Davies himself conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, for which the Sixth Symphony was written, thereby ensuring an authoritative performance.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sombre Maturity and Polite Playing, 25 Feb 2013
Mr. A. R. Boyes "Alan Boyes" (Newcastle, England) - See all my reviews
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One reason that the Sixth Symphony may appear a good entry point to Peter Maxwell Davies' symphonies is that it feels like a consolidation of what he had developed in the previous five. That doesn't necessarily make it the best of the bunch. The three expansive movements make for a large symphony in scope with a searching and melancholic finale. Certainly it is a sombre work but not so forbidding. The first two movements effortlessly move between tempo changes, which, adds greater weight to the less animated finale.

In scale it is similar to the first three; more tonally grounded than the first but more subdued orchestral colouring than the exquisitely scored Second. The expansiveness comes as a surprise after the compact one movement Fifth seemed to herald a change of direction.

The two other works on this disc are strangely subdued given their populist elements. "Orkney Wedding and Sunrise" manages to sound very well behaved. I did wonder whether the composer re-scored some of it because some brass instruments disappeared from the original recording and generally the brass certainly sound distant. This sounds in part due to the balance of the recording and also some rather polite playing. The drunken party seems to amount to no more than a couple of babychams. The playing sounds refined and a little too careful. Perhaps Peter Maxwell Davies wanted to smooth over the more pictorial elements to provide a more cohesive form, though thankfully, the entry of the bagpipe sunrise is superbly executed. Some might prefer this more cautious approach but I miss the previous raucousness that clearly harks back to Malcolm Arnold's "Tam O' Shanter".

"Time and the Raven" shares material with the symphony and could be viewed on this programme as a bridge between the weighty symphony and the populist overture. The mock anthem quotations certainly have a satirical edge but without ever sounding particularly angry or mocking.

I can only give four stars because the other recordings in this series with the BBC Philharmonic carry more clout in the brass and the recording of the Second Symphony is a spectacular in comparison.

Despite the reservations it's likely that a better version of the symphony isn't going to appear any time soon and it certainly isn't a bad recording, comign with the composer's conducting to add authenticity. Like others I'd love to hear Naxos take up the later symphonies that have yet to be recorded and were composed after the Collins label folded. Still recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let us hope for more!, 7 Feb 2013
This review is from: Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 6- Time and the Raven / An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise (Audio CD)
With the 6th Symphony we have something new, three movements, all at least partly slow in texture, and it is the slow Adagio introduction which draws you into the main body, Allegro, of the first movement and the Symphony as a whole. The two outer movements seem to pivot around the central Adagio non troppo, and a word of warning here, do not listen to this work at first using headphones, as a lot of the symphonic colour comes via the percussion section and the timpanist could leave you with a headache! The final movement begins with a slow lilting section, which is not usually how you describe the music of Maxwell Davies, with solo violin, before leading in to a more animated section, quite impressive stuff! Included on this disc are the `occasional overture' Time and the Raven from 1995, and the ever popular An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise with its bag-pipe solo here expertly played by George McIlwham, who in my opinion is the finest interpreter of the work that I have heard, and superbly backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The problem is, there are no further Collins recordings of the symphonies for Naxos to re-issue, so let us hope that they invest in new recordings of the final three symphonies, I have hear the 7th and would love to hear the Antarctic Symphony (Symphony No. 8), I have heard so many good things about the work, let us also hope that they can encourage the composer to conduct them himself!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious musc, 31 May 2014
Ann McCabe (England, Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 6- Time and the Raven / An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise (Audio CD)
Recommend this for all lovers of the music of Peter Maxwell Davies. A good starter record for newcomers to his wonderful rich music.
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