Classical review: Maxwell Davies Premier, Glasgow

SCO: Long strains of sinewy melody constantly buffeted by luminous sprays of chattering brass and woodwind. Picture: Donald MacLeod

SCO: Long strains of sinewy melody constantly buffeted by luminous sprays of chattering brass and woodwind. Picture: Donald MacLeod

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Who’d have thought, 12 months ago, that we’d be listening to a major new work by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies? Yet, if anything, the health traumas of the past year seem to have awoken a newfound zeal that was certainly evident in the premiere last night of Ebb of Winter, a work commissioned and performed by the SCO to celebrate its 40th anniversary season.

Maxwell Davies Premier - City Halls, Glasgow

* * * *

The first thing that hits you is the sheer exuberance of this 20-minute tone poem. Inspired by the unpredictable, ever-changing Orkney weather, it dances with mercurial fluidity, long strains of sinewy melody constantly buffeted by luminous sprays of chattering brass and woodwind. A startling strain of warm-hearted Romanticism underpins everything, exerting a softening effect on some of the old Max austerity that lurks bullishly beneath the surface.

Oliver Knussen conducted a sparkling first performance, matching ear for detail with a powerful sense of build towards the final blazing major chord.

Knussen’s empathy with soloist Peter Serkin in Bartok’s Piano Concerto No 3 was equally potent. Serkin’s view of this glorious late work was not a high-energy one, but more aimed at eliciting poetic nuance in the opening movement, and timeless reflection in the second, to which he added a strangely feverish anguish. Different, but interesting. There was no mucking about with Stravinsky’s Symphony in C. Knussen left it largely to its own devices, though his rhythmic, textural clarity gave it a stubborn, eloquent precision.

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