PETER MAXWELL DAVIES (1934-2016): Piano Sonata, 3 Sanday Places, 5 Little Pieces, 6 Secret Songs, Farewell to Stromness, Yesnaby Ground, 5 Pieces, Op. 2, An Orkney Tune, Snow Cloud over Lochan, Sub Tuam Protectionem, Ut Re Mi, Stevie’s Ferry to Hay, Parade.

Catalogue Number: 08S049

Label: Prima Facie

Reference: PFCD017/018

Format: CD

Price: $24.98

Description: Davies was an accomplished pianist by the time he started composing, and with the obvious exception of John Ogdon was the only member of the 'Manchester Group' who maintained a consistent performing relationship with the piano. Although solo piano music makes up a relatively small part of his huge output (important piano parts abound in his ensemble pieces, especially those for The Fires of London), they are a significant aspect of his œuvre, and include one major work; the Piano Sonata, from 1981. This is a large work - about 25 minutes - in seven movements. It qualifies as a sonata, rather than a suite, on account of its tightly organized structure. There is a controlled symmetry about the sonata, which takes aspects of its form from late Beethoven. It even employs a kind of tonality - more audible in some sections than others - though nor, of course, in the usual relationships of sonata form, though the outer movements are shaped as sonata structures. Two fast, virtuosic scherzi bracket two slow passacaglias, emphasizing again the composer's career-long preoccupation with early forms, grouped around the centrally placed cantabile con moto, a pivot around which the asymmetrical palindrome of the work's structure is organized. The composer's range is shown by the simple, melodious works for young people, never patronizing and often strongly evocative of places in the northern Scottish isles where he made his home in later years. These pieces - the Sanday Places, the Snow Cloud, the Ferry, the Orkney Tune - are all very tonal, and approachable. The two sets of Five Pieces from the early 1960s are the least tonal works here, very influenced by Schönberg and typical of the composer's early style. Sub Tuam Protectionem and Ut Re Mi are examples of Davies taking early material - by John Dunstable and John Bull respectively - and treating it as the basis for an extended fantasy in his own style, while retaining the original material in more-or-less recognisable form, a device to which he has returned repeatedly over the years. Finally, we have the premiere of Parade by the fifteen-year-old composer, a fascinating document in which we find the young composer flexing both compositional and pianistic muscles with a wealth of allusions to repertory composers who interested him at the time. More than that, though, the four movements, though a little diffuse in form, contain remarkably mature and individual music of real quality in a broadly tonal highly chromatic general vocabulary. A ten-minute bonus interview is typical of Davies’ genial, insightful commentary on his music; he was a natural and spontaneous speaker and unusually for a contemporary composer, able to pithily and entertainingly provide real information about his pieces without sounding pretentious or obscure. 2 CDs. Richard Casey (piano).


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