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SCO & Sean Shibe - Maxwell Davies: An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise - McAlister Matheson Music Newsletter

This fascinating disc combines newer works with old-established favourites. Orchestral pieces alternate with works for solo guitar, the latter played by young Edinburgh-born guitarist Sean Shibe. He gives a rare account of Hill Runes, a series of five characterful miniatures inspired by George Mackay Brown's enigmatic poem of that name. The music's nature is more akin to lute music; apparently Max was trying to find a way of writing for the guitar that was in no way 'Spanish'. Shibe is a persuasive advocate for the work, and also gives a warm-hearted performance of Farewell to Stromness.

The disc opens with Concert Overture: Ebb of Winter, the newest work here, written in 2013 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the SCO. Inspired by the unpredictable Orkney weather, it' 'dances with mercurial fluidity, long strains of sinewy melody constantly buffeted by luminous sprays of chattering brass and woodwind' - The Scotsman. Lasting eighteen minutes, it is substantial, by turn agitated, tranquil and intense but underpinned by a warmth that draws the listener in.

Like Ebb of Winter, Last Door of Light (2008) receives its premiere outing on disc. Suffused with folk-like tunes and fragments, catchy rhythmic passages and solemn chorales, it culminates in a satisfying climax with brass and timpani prominent. Directing the orchestra is young prize-winning conductor Ben Gernon, who conducted the SCO's 2014 Prom featuring Max's music on the occasion of his 80th birthday. He gives the SCO full rein in An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, which is played with an irrepressible panache and swinging energy. Stand-out moments are an incredibly virtuosic ‘tipsy violinist', and a most spine-tingling rising of the sun, with the bagpipes emerging from the texture in (almost) subtle fashion.

It's all hugely life-inspiring, and a fitting tribute to a composer and conductor whose life was closely linked with that of the SCO for so many years.

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McAlister Matheson Music Newsletter
23 September 2016