Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b.1934)
Symphony no.6, op.176 (1996) [49:27]
Time and the Raven, op.172 (1995) [13:37]
An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, op.120b (1984) * [13:13]
George McIlwham (bagpipes) *
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Peter Maxwell Davies
rec. All Saints Church, Tooting, London, 7-8 August 1996; *Abbey Road Studios, London, 16 December 1991. DDD
NAXOS 8.572352 [76:16]

This is the fifth and last volume in Naxos's reissue of the 1990s-vintage Collins Classics recordings of Peter Maxwell Davies's Symphonies, all released in 2012. See reviews of the First, Third and the Fourth & Fifth.
The Sixth Symphony originally appeared with Time and the Raven on Collins Classics 14822 (1996), whilst An Orkney Wedding came out a couple of years earlier on Collins Classics 15242. Combining the three works here, Naxos offer a generous 76 minutes of stirring, striking orchestral music from one of Britain's greatest living composers. Moreover, now that Collins Classics discs are only available second-hand or imported, these Naxos reissues are especially collectible: they remain, rather surprisingly, the only recordings of the Sixth and of Time and the Raven

An Orkney Wedding With Sunrise is rightly one of Maxwell Davies's most popular works, his answer to Malcolm Arnold's Tam O'Shanter Overture - drunken revelry included. Some may remember the work from the Last Night of the BBC Proms in 1992 - Andrew Davis conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra, but the piper was the same as on this recording, veteran instrumentalist and composer George McIlwham. The appearance at sunrise of the piper is guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine of any listener, Scottish or not. Maxwell Davies has been one of the few composers with the courage and imagination to incorporate bagpipes into his works, as with the Northumbrian smallpipes in Cross Lane Fair, coupled in this series with the Third Symphony (see above for review). Maxwell Davies' own website gives the composition date for An Orkney Wedding as 1986, but as it was premiered by John Williams and the Boston Pops in 1985, Naxos's 1984 seems more likely to be correct! Williams' recording of the work is still available on Philips (420 946-2), as is Maxwell Davies's other recording, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Unicorn Kanchana (B000001 PCM).
Time and the Raven is more Gothic in title than musically, yet it warms the listener up nicely for the more difficult Sixth Symphony, being somewhat darker and more physical than An Orkney Wedding. The decision to place the Symphony first, incidentally, is an odd one - the new listener will be much more attuned to its rather uncompromising soundscape by playing the CD in reverse order. The basic material of Time and the Raven, written to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, is national anthems invented by the composer, although this is anything but a turgid nationalist reveille.
The Symphony is yet another big one from the composer - of his first six, only nos. 4 and 5 come in under the three-quarters of an hour mark. With the two outer movements lasting a full 20 minutes each, this is no quick listen. Incidentally, the third movement of this recording has already appeared on Naxos, in their double-CD Portrait of the composer (review). The work borrows a slow tune from Time and the Raven, composed the previous year. At the time this was probably Maxwell Davies' most obviously expressionist - or anti-lyrical - Symphony; more indicative of his modernist background than works he is more likely to be known by, like Mavis in Las Vegas, Farewell to Stromness or An Orkney Wedding. Yet, like much of the composer's more 'abstruse' music, there are levels, and at ground floor it remains surprisingly approachable, with the superb orchestral colourings and profound sweeps of drama sure to excite all but the most moribund of palates.
Maxwell Davies has said that he wrote the Sixth with the virtuosity of members of the Royal Philharmonic in mind, and certainly they cruise through the challenging score with barely a wind-ruffled hair, expertly directed by the composer himself. Sound quality is very decent, with excellent stereo. Work on the booklet notes was shared among Maxwell Davies, David Nice and Richard Whitehouse. Maxwell Davies's Orkney Wedding comments leave the reader geographically perplexed (italics added): "as we walk home across the island [Hoy], the sun rises, over Caithness, to a glorious dawn."
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A generous helping of stirring, striking orchestral music from one of Britain's greatest living composers.

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