Max at 75 (1)

Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Peter Maxwell Davies
Violin Concerto No.2, ‘Fiddler on the Shore’ [UK premiere]
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82

Daniel Hope (violin)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Peter Maxwell DaviesGarry Walker [Sibelius]

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 8 September, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Sir Peter Maxwell DaviesSir Peter Maxwell Davies turned 75 on this day and was joined by Mendelssohn, whose 200th-anniversary is celebrated this year.

Maxwell Davies’s latest concerto, like Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, has three linked movements to form an integrated whole, melodic and rhythmic ideas being developed throughout. Indeed, the connection to Mendelssohn doesn’t end there given that Max draws upon figurative ideas from The Hebrides overture in acknowledgement of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the commissioners of the 25-minute ‘Fiddler on the Shore’, and composed for Daniel Hope.

The concerto opens in classical style with an orchestral tutti, the soloist then entering, though that is where the similarity ends. The triple-wind orchestra is not exceptionally large by modern standards and utilises a comparatively lean percussion section. Ever the master in terms of balance, Max moulds his musicians around the solo violin. Though indebted to Mendelssohn formally, harmonically the concerto owes more to Alban Berg’s example, written a year after Max was born, with a similar pan-tonal writing for the strings. Truly sumptuous! ‘Fiddler on the Shore’ strays into a diatonic idiom at various points, most noticeably in the long, slow melody the soloist plays as a substantial part of the second movement. At times, the use of Orcadian folk-music can become banal; such is the case in the trite closing dance. On the whole, however, this is a fine work.

In Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Max revealed much detail, an interpretation more Classical than Romantic, the playing rhythmic and sprightly with some deftly pointed strings, equally matched winds, and well-balanced brass.

By contrast, a wooden and lifeless performance of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony found the brass unchecked on many occasions, the opening of the finale being horns and little else. Garry Walker, Permanent Guest Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, did not seem to inspire the musicians as Max had done.

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