Maxwell Davies: The Last Island; A Postcard from Sanday; String Trio; Two Nocturnes; Lullaby; Oboe Quartet; A Birthday Card for Jennifer; Sonata for Violin and Piano; String Quartet Movement

Reviewed on Fri 06 Oct, 2017

All but two of the 10 pieces here (the Lullaby of 1991 and 1997’s A Birthday Card for Jennifer) were composed in the eight years before Davies’s death in March 2016.

Sinewy, soulful, complex yet immediately direct and satisfying, this superbly played collection of chamber works by Peter Maxwell Davies makes one wish he had not come to the genre so late in life. All but two of the 10 pieces here (the Lullaby of 1991 and 1997’s A Birthday Card for Jennifer) were composed in the eight years before Davies’s death in March 2016. Poignantly, they include the valedictory String Quartet Movement, a conjuring of the wild landscape and weather of his adopted Orkney as rich and resonant as anything he wrote. Similarly, The Last Island (2009) illustrates both a dramatic engagement with place and a passionate meditation on its permanence in the face of encroaching mortality. There’s concentrated substance, too, in the anguished String Trio, composed in memory of a murdered islander, searching chiaroscuro contrasts of the Violin Sonata (both 2008) and dark-hued, plainsong-accented Oboe Quartet (2012). Intelligent, insightful performances all round from the faultless Hebrides Ensemble.
–Michael Quinn