MUSIC / BBC PO / Maxwell Davies - RNCM, Manchester

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The Independent Culture
Agenuinely helpful pre-concert speech is a rare phenomenon, but Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's preamble to his First Symphony managed to be just that. He singled out the complexities of rhythmic overlap and related them to the more familiar Vaughan Williams he had conducted in the first half; and his metaphor of Orkney seascapes and skyscapes chimed in with his avowed glad-to-be-grey attitude to orchestral texture.

For the first time in my five or six hearings the first two movements came across as (relatively) lucid rather than merely frenetic, and the overlapping layers of pedal- notes exploding at the end felt Sibelian not just as gestures but as part of a larger elemental process. That has to be a tribute to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra's supremely accomplished playing as well as to the composer's direction. In the last two movements, however, the search for perspectives amid the maelstrom of polyphonic and rhythmic convolution once again defeated me.

Maxwell Davies added an unscheduled tribute to the memory of Sir Charles Groves in the form of a touching four-minute pavane. But his conducting of Vaughan Williams's Sixth Symphony was curiously literal and stand-offish, with surprisingly little attempt to tap the orchestra's subtler resources or to explore the music's shades of mystery.

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