Maxwell Davies Amuses and Bemuses

Meet the Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and prepare to be dazzled and this eclectic collection

Composer: Maxwell Davies
Repertoire:  Linguae Ignis; Vesalii Icones; Fantasia on a Ground and Two Pavans (after Purcell)
Artists: Vittorio Ceccanti (vlc), Contempoart Ensemble/Mauro Ceccanti
Rating:  4/5
Genre: Chamber
Label: NAXOS 8.572712

The Music:  From the tranquility of the cello’s plainsong in Linguae Ignis
(a world premiere recording) to microtonal and prepared-piano jazz and blues in the Purcell tribute, scarcely a minute goes by without ‘Max’ surprising us. The eclectic sensibilities of the earlier works could probably have come only from the 1960s; 
the 2002 work provides intriguing insight into the composer’s evolution.

The Performance: The Italian ensemble and especially solo cellist Vittorio Ceccanti bring the music prancing off the page. Ceccanti tackles Linguae Ignis with persuasive tone; and in Vesalii Icones, a ‘music-theatre work for dancer (ad libitum), solo cello and instrumental ensemble’ based on Vaesalius’s illustrations of the Stations of the Cross, there’s little need to imagine a dancer when the musicians evoke its foibles so thoroughly. The CD box mentions this work’s ‘profound ritualistic expression’, yet the Italians never neglect the lighter, more humorous aspects. They come into their own swinging the end of the Purcell fantasia off its quirky wall.

The Verdict: Maxwell Davies is a prominent figure in British musical life, yet usually we don’t hear nearly enough of his music. This budget-price CD is a welcome new arrival.

Want More? Peter Maxwell Davies: A Portrait offers music including the impressive Eight Songs for a Mad King, interviews with the composer and an illustrated essay (Naxos, 8.558191-92).