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Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b.1934)
Caroline Mathilde – Ballet concert suites (1991 and 1992) Act I [25:08] Act II [37:34]
Chat Moss (1993) [5:36]
Ojai Festival overture (1991) [5:35]
BBC Philharmonic/Peter Maxwell Davies
rec. 1991-95; Cheltenham Town Hall; Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester. DDD
originally issued on Collins Classics 14442 and 14642
NAXOS 8.572358 [73:53]

The admirable Naxos programme of reissuing the Maxwell Davies recordings which originally came out on Collins Classics continues apace. It now brings us the two concert suites from Caroline Mathilde and two smaller works.

The Caroline Mathilde ballet was Maxwell Davies’ second collaboration with the choreographer Flemming Flindt. The first was Salome in 1978 and was recorded by EMI. It first came out in 1978 in a 3 LP set (157-39270/2) from Danish EMI and was then reissued on CD in EMI's 'British Composers' series in 2004 (586 1842). The CD set is listed as still available on Amazon.

The Caroline Mathilde story is a sad one: Caroline Mathilde (Matilda in English), was the sister of George III. She was married off in 1766 at the age of 15 to the young king of Denmark, Christian VII, who was then 17. He was epileptic and also suffered from some kind of mental illness. He became increasingly ill and his doctor, Johann Struensee achieved a temporary cure and was able to manage him. The king fell under his sway and Struensee became for a short time the effective ruler of the country. Meanwhile the lonely and friendless princess, who had had everything familiar taken from her, became drawn to Struensee and they had an affair. Eventually, when Caroline was 20, there was a rebellion and the king was persuaded to order Struensee’s execution and Caroline’s banishment. She had to leave her two children and go to live in Hanover, where she had royal relatives, and where she died of scarlet fever three years later. This story is apparently a familiar one in Denmark though I had not come across it before hearing the music.

The complete ballet takes her from her arrival in Denmark to her banishment. It lasts just under two and half hours and has not been recorded or filmed. What we have here are the two suites which the composer drew, one from each act, which together come to just over an hour. These were compiled five years apart and recorded separately, though by the same forces, and were originally issued on two different CDs, so putting them together was an obvious and useful move. Maxwell Davies has a very wide stylistic range, from foxtrots, Scottish folk tunes and modal melodies at one extreme to hard edge Schoenbergian dissonance and Stravinskian rhythmic vitality at the other. Most of Caroline Mathilde occupies a middle ground, and would not be challenging to someone who enjoys Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which in some places it resembles so closely that I fancy the composer listened to it to get himself into gear. There are also some characteristic fingerprints: screamingly high trumpets, solos for marimba and alto flute, string passages of Mahlerian yearning and some thunderous percussion. The two suites are very varied and make an attractive programme. They are perhaps not quite first rate Maxwell Davies but he sets a high standard and they are enjoyable in their own terms.

The other two works are quite short. Chat Moss is one of his many pieces for amateurs, though it doesn’t sound it. It is named after a quagmire in Lancashire where the railway had to be set on sleepers which float on the mud. It begins quietly, offers several solo opportunities and ends with marching rhythms. The Ojai Festival Overture is named after a town in California near the coast and shows the clear influence of Copland. It is a cheerful and extravert piece.

Stephen Barber



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