SCO & Sean Shibe - Maxwell Davies: An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise - Gramophone

Two substantial late works of Maxwell Davies here receive first recordings. Ebb of Winter (2013) is designated a concert overture, which may give a clue to its positive, hard-won conclusion, most unusual in Max's output. The opening is no less striking, and what comes between eventful and unerringly well-scored, even if the internal processes (why are we here and where are we going?) remain stubbornly obscure, as they tend to with his later music.

Last Door of Light (2009) may be an even more welcoming portal to those who see as much as hear music. Orcadian folk elements pervade the opening before the mists descend to bring characteristic episodes of stasis. Climbing out of them and proceeding onwards requires patience and tenacity but the journey is a toughly satisfying, Sibelian one, rewarded by a brass chorale bringing the title's promised point of light and rest.

Booklet photos show Max present and still an energetic, authoritative presence at the sessions last September, though he was mortally ill from the leukaemia that killed him in March. His long and fruitful association with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra included a previous recording (12/88) of the Orkney Wedding, but Linn's engineering is superior and crucially places Robert Jordan's climactic bagpipe solo towards centre stage. Ben Gernon secures playing of even greater spirit and accuracy than the composer, replete with shouts of glee.

Taking us back to the end of Max's highmodernist period, Hill Runes (1981) is a set of miniatures, like confessional postcards in tone, no less elliptical than the five verses of the George Mackay Brown poem that inspired them. In a most affectionate and subtly inflected performance, Sean Shibe also contributes Timothy Walker's arrangement of the evergreen Farewell to Stromness, which thousands play and hear without knowing another note of the composer's music. For a single-disc introduction to the many voices of Max, look no further.

01 October 2016