Dedication Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Commissioned by Strathclyde Regional Council and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
.2 flutes (2nd + piccolo and alto flute), 2 oboes (2nd + cor anglais), 2 clarinets in A (2nd + bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (2nd + double bassoon), 2 horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, timpani, strings
1. Allegro non troppo
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.
Short Note by Paul Griffiths
The last of the Strathclyde set is a concerto for orchestras: a work in which everyone has prizes. In the allegro first movement, the changes of colour implied by concerto style – as different sections or duos (or, more rarely, soloists) come forward to take command of the music, or to be commanded by it – are part of the form-building purpose. The climax of the movement is fast and furious, but then comes a slow coda, with dramatic appeals from bassoon, horns and trumpets in turn. After this there is a slow movement, beginning as a pianissimo study in harmony for woodwinds and strings, and subsequently – especially after the solo for cor anglais with horns and strings – gaining in vehemence to the maximum degree. The finale is a generally fast sequence of dances and flourishes which the timpani finally impel towards a vivid conclusion, though a question mark remains.
Extended Note by Stephen Pruslin
The seeds of a concerto for orchestra were there from early on in the Strathclyde cycle. Although the idea didn’t crystallize immediately, Davies had certainly decided upon it well before specifying the solo instruments for the Strathclyde Concerto No.9. In fact, it was implicit as far back as the Strathclyde No.3 (1989), first of the cycle’s two double concertos. Here, the solo horn and trumpet cooperate, but their naturally high profile also encourages them to compete, at least in the sense of spurring each other on to ever greater heights. In the Strathclyde No.5 (1991), the solo violin and viola share the limelight by frequently reversing roles, while acting together as the red highlights in a sound-picture of richest mahogany.
The germination of a concerto for orchestra finally becomes explicit in the Strathclyde No. 9 (1994), which Maxwell Davies wrote for an extraordinary group of six auxiliary woodwind instruments. In No. 9, the traditional meanings of the solo and tutti are almost turned inside-out. Within the wind sextet, the instruments are deployed soloistically but also in groupings from two to six, so that, at certain key moments, the wind concertino becomes a mini-tutti in its own right. At the same time, the string orchestra, officially the work’s tutti element, also proves to be infinitely divisible into individual parts.
This brings Davies to the threshold of his concerto for orchestra, in which the centrifugal impulse to dispersal is balanced by a centripedal one to gathering-in. The orchestra can form either a wide waveband of soloists or one single tutti block, while the chiaroscuro of instrumental combinations is employed to produce every degree of difference in between. The dramatic functions of conflict and cooperation thus co-exists in a way that gives the work’s title its musical reality.
Maxwell Davies has used ‘colouristic’ percussion sparingly in these concertos: only Nos. 4 and 6 include it, and even then apply it judiciously. The timpani have participated more regularly: they appear in Nos. 1-4 and No. 8, usually in the ‘continuo’ role of a mediator who articulates the structure. Now, in the No. 10, their activity takes on a rhetoric and flamboyance that at times turns the work into ‘ the timpani concerto that Sir Peter didn’t write’.
The first movement nails its flag vigorously to the mast, though it is not without parentheses of atmospheric suspension. The appending of ‘non troppo’ to the main allegro tempo clearly encourages the articulation and projection of a wealth of instrumental detail. Davies pays homage to Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, a favourite work of his youth. There are no ‘quotations’, but, rather, discreet fleeting allusions, of which the most obvious are the pervasive parings of instruments in evocation of Bartok’s second movement, ‘Games of the Couples’.
The lento second movement exhibits the deceptive simplicty that characterizes the Strathclyde cycle as a whole, but which, in certain movements (including this one), results in a radical reduction of the musical surface with, in Davies’s own words, ‘fewer notes being made to work correspondingly harder’. The music is intentionally ‘plain’ in the Amish sense of straightforward, while it exhibits an identity of form and function typical of Shaker design. After their exertions during the first movement, the horn and trumpet are held in reserve – the timpani even longer – so that their eventual appearance is all the more telling.
After a moderato introduction has wound up a short-long rhythmic ‘kick’, the allegro finale launches into the high gear of a timpani-led, celebratory Celidh. An element of dance has not been absent from Strathclyde finales – in No. 8, the solo bassoon leads the orchestra in a ‘Balanchine ballet’ of swirling choreographic patterns. Here, in No. 10, abstract dance is replaced by a specifically Gaelic flavour, although the similarity of ‘Scottish snap’ rhythm to the ‘Hungarian snap’ constitutes another oblique tribute to Bartok.
The dance unfolds in brilliant sunlight, but occasionally seeks dappled areas until a Meno mosso provides a refuge of deep shade. In the climactic Allegro molto, the timpani lure the celebrants back into the light and then, con tutta forza, exhort them to dance until they drop. In these final coruscating moments, the gleaming tonality of E Major is persistently darkened by an instrusive B-flat as the timpani gradually ‘unmask’ to reveal a Diabolus in musica. That the entire Strathclyde cycle should end in this way is the most quintessential Maxwell Davies gesture of all.
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City Halls, Glasgow
Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Scottish Chamber Orchestra