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Nicholas Maw in fine form


Record Box


Now in his sixties, Nicholas Maw has spent several years teaching in the States, and we in Britain are therefore short of a native composer who has shown the workings of an extremely agile musical brain capable of traversing musical territory with such precision that he never treads anyone else's footprints. His command of language enables any density of speech, and a quite breathtaking expanse of lyricism when appropriate.

Not given to pieces of Mahlerian proportions, he has nevertheless made us a pretty good substitute in Odyssey, a single span of 96 minutes, which is a fair distance in musical terms. It was first heard at the Proms in 1987.

This 77 minute CD provides three works, of which the choral work Hymnus I find less of a spellbinder than the Little Concert for solo oboe, two horns and strings, and Shahnama for small orchestra.

Nicholas Maw - Hymnus, Little Concert, Shahnama. (c) 1999 ASV Ltd.The oboist Nicholas Daniels even excels his usual brilliance with a superb realisation of the high tension [listen - track 5, 00:40-00:57] and a mellifluous gliding over the gentler slopes [listen - track 3, 03:15-03:40] found in the three movements of Little Concert. This shines out as a work of uncommon attractiveness yet within the range of those who usually swallow hard in the presence of 'modern' music.

Shahnama is the high spot of this CD, and has Maw's extensive use of an armoury of invention, the subtle use of a small orchestra, and his translation of events and feelings into a sharply etched language [listen - track 13, 00:47-01:20], all trained towards the focal point - our one pair of ears. Maw's focal point was a series of early paintings of scenes from a Persian national epic, to which musical response has been made to nine of them, with a little flourish on the piano between each as the page turns to the next scene. This becomes a rich experience for the listener, so varied in manner and mood are the pictures.

I don't intend to ignore the choral work Hymnus. The first of two movements, 'Hymn at Dawn', awakens to a colourful sunrise, of which the Oxford singers take full advantage, and typically, Maw's soundscape is resplendent. I find the 'Evening Hymn' disappointing.

As a portrait of Nicholas Maw, this programme encapsulates his style, and the performances recreate his world of imagination.

Copyright © 8 March 2000 Basil Ramsey, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews