Dedication David Nicholson, Elizabeth Dooner, Maurice Checker, Lewis Morrison, Ruth Ellis, Alison Green and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Commissioned by Strathclyde Regional Council and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Piccolo solo, alto flute solo, cor anglais solo, Eb clarinet solo, bass clarinet solo, contrabassoon solo, violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello, double bass
(played without a break)
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.
e cycle in the Strathclyde Concerto No. 5, where it provides a rich mahogany sound-picture of which the solo violin and viola act as the red highlights. In No. 9, the strings are of course used to set the sharply etched wind sextet into relief. However, acting as ripieno to the wind concertino is only one of their functions. Inside the string tutti, a whole range of light and shade unfolds, taking in an entirely independent dialogue between solo and tutti, and branching out to extraordinary textures such as the ‘wall’ of arch-shaped arpeggios in which the first violins, and then the seconds, are divided into six real parts each. It is fair to say that the detailed attention Maxwell Davies has lavished on the orchestral part of this concerto would easily have satisfied the demands of a work for string orchestra alone. Perhaps most fascinating is the work’s formal design. Cast in one continuous musical span, its ‘mosaic’ structure is directly related to Davies’s contiguous Symphony No. 5, much of which is conceived as a dialogue between fast and slow music. In the symphony, dark or luminous ‘pools’ of slow music, and important ‘fermata principle’ for Davies. In the Strathclyde No. 9, he has re-focused this so as to take advantage of the opportunities of concerto discourse.
The work begins with a Moderato introduction that soon releases into a main Allegro . From here on, however, there are no fewer than twenty-six alternations between the perpetually evolving allegro and a continuum of Andantes, Adagios and Lentos . In the concluding Lentissimo, the wind sextet has the last word, while the ‘parenthetical’ slow music is revealed as the concerto’s ‘significant opposing principle’.
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City Halls, Glasgow
Friday, 10 February 1995
Scottish Chamber Orchestra