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ClassicsOnline Home » MAXWELL DAVIES, P.: Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 9 and 10 / Carolísima (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Maxwell Davies)
Peter Maxwell Davies’s Strathclyde Concertos, jointly commissioned by Strathclyde Regional Council and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 1987, have given rise to a whole family of concertos for different and unusual instruments. The Ninth Concerto provides an opportunity for woodwind instruments to shine as soloists, the music inspired by the infinite shades of winter light reflected from the seas of Orkney. The final Tenth Concerto is “a concerto for orchestra that’s as bracing as a gale on the rugged Orkney cliffs” (BBC Music Magazine), and the delightful Carolísima is filled with dances and singable tunes.
Peter Maxwell Davies (b 1934)
Strathclyde Concertos Nos 9 and 10 • Carolísima
Strathclyde Concerto No 9, Op 170 (1994)
For six woodwind players and string orchestra
The ninth concerto in the series was designed as an opportunity for those members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra who had hitherto had no chance to shine as soloists to do so—hence the unusual ‘concertante’ line-up of piccolo, alto flute, cor anglais, clarinet in E flat, bass clarinet and contrabassoon, with string orchestra.
The work has basic material in common with a short work composed for the choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, called Mercurius. The colours of the concerto were inspired by the infinite variety of shading within the winter greys of my Orkney home, where all light is refracted and reflected back from the sea three hundred feet below the house; this—particularly in November—makes me think of transparent, translucent or opaque Mercury, ranging from a cloud-shadowed near-purple to the brightest, suddenly sparkling silver. I believe this will be clearest in the slow, quiet sections which constantly interrupt the concerto’s flow, opening up like a ‘laconismus* lachrymabundus**’ in stormy weather.
There is one movement only. A slow introduction heralds a fast exposition, closed by a short lento featuring a high contrabassoon solo. The development is characterized by sudden ‘cadenzas’ for the soloists and leads not to the usual varied reprise of the exposition but to a slow and gently rocking ‘lullaby’ for all the soloists, standing in for a slow movement proper. The quick recapitulation that follows is capped by an ‘apotheosis’, where the strings have the melody in unison, while the soloists decorate this with swirling ‘snowstorm’ figurations. The ending is not in the opening key of F major but relaxes into D flat, the major version of the arrival point of the work’s first long paragraph.
* A fashion of speaking in few words with much matter.
** Weeping ripe, ready to weep (used of clouds).
Strathclyde Concerto No 10, Op 179 (1996)
Concerto for Orchestra
This is a concerto for orchestra, in three movements.
The first, Allegro non troppo, is on a symphonic scale, turbulent and urgent, with maximum virtuosity required of all members of the orchestra—even back-desk string players find themselves suddenly spotlit, playing chords alone. Particularly demanding are the cadenzas and flourishes for horns, trumpets and timpani.
The second movement is slow, with gentle triple-time rhythms (lower strings, pizzicato), and long melodies on flute and alto flute—led by questing horn and trumpet calls into an elegiac and intense middle section, scored first for strings along, then with an extended cor anglais solo and finally for full orchestra. A varied reprise of the movement’s opening is again heralded by horns and trumpets.
The finale starts with the kind of melody (on piccolo) with which such concerto cycles should perhaps end—cheerful and perky, suggestive of a type of Gaelic gathering known as a ceilidh. I took great pleasure in undermining and splintering this figure before subjecting it to a most thorough sequence of transformations: the blaze of celebratory E major triumphalism is dissolved on a calm B flat major triad, which triggers not direct quotes from all the previous Strathclyde Concertos, played by their respective soloists, in order, but treatments of the material of this concerto to suggest its predecessors—pure nostalgia! The close is, indeed, triumphant, but not absolutely—I have left the door ajar for further concertos, for further music with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Carolísima, Op 168 (1994)
Serenade for chamber orchestra or instrumental ensemble
The Serenade was commissioned by my Edinburgh friend and neighbour, the Danish Consul Jens Høgel, as a surprise present for his wife’s fiftieth birthday. Preparations had to be top secret, and even the members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra were unaware of the occasion for which they were about to rehearse. We were smuggled through the back entrance into an Edinburgh hotel, where Mrs Høgel’s birthday party just happened to be a reception for the Cleveland Orchestra during the Festival: the first performance was given for her and for the visiting orchestra—much to everybody’s delight and astonishment. The title Carolísima is derived affectionately from her first name, Carol.
Jens requested that there be at least two tunes suitable for whistling, and something to dance to, in the course of the Serenade. There are at least three singable tunes: the Introductions, the central Adagio, and the Epilogue—all very Scottish, but I also played with references to Aaron Copland, one of the dedicatee’s favourite composers (she is American), and a dear friend and mentor of mine. The first Allegro is energetic and virtuoso, and the second suggests a ceilidh.
Peter Maxwell Davies
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