NICHOLAS MAW (1935-2009): Spring Music, Voices of Memory (BBC National Orchestra of Wales; William Boughton), Sonata for Solo Violin (Harriet Mackenzie).
Catalogue Number: 03V056
Description: Maw forged his own very individual and instantly recognizable idiom early on, largely turning his back on the serialism that was all around in his formative years in favor of a wealth of tonal harmony and memorable melody in the service of direct emotional communication with his audience. He produced a sizable body of outstanding orchestral works, pre-eminently his colossal, sui generis Odyssey (1973-87), and here are two more. Voices of Memory is a major set of variations, commissioned to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Purcell's death. Maw chose a theme from his own Life Studies from twenty years earlier as the basis for the work, which employs a large orchestra with painterly skill in gradations of color and texture. The theme is stately and serious, and is freely explored in ten variations in neo-Romantic mold which while characterfully self-contained nevertheless form a dramatic arc with a strong sense of direction. The third variation combines a scampering scherzo with fanfares and a very 'English' 'second subject' treatment of the theme, the whole a miniature showcase of Maw's mastery of orchestral textures and lightning changes of mood. The following variation is pastoral and uneasily tranquil and the one after that, robust and assertive. The sixth is a miniature tone poem of tragic nobility, while the seventh a sprightly scherzo that must surely be related to the sinister imps dancing around in Busoni's cortège from Faust (which also seems to be echoed in the following 'solenne' variation - not the only time that Busoni's shadow falls over Maw's music). An evanescent, insubstantial and mysterious fugato precedes the finale, which is a passacaglia over a neo-Purcellian ground, that runs through a similar range of variations as the work as a whole and reaches an imposing, granitic climax with a grand restatement of the theme to close. The commission for Spring Music stipulated that it be more conventional in its demands in duration and orchestration than many of Maw's works, and the result was one of his sunniest and most appealing scores, though forceful and exuberant rather than 'pretty', taking its cue from Dylan Thomas' line that expresses the energy of the season: ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower ...’. The vibrant score is in four sections, mimicking a symphonic shape; if Maw ever sounds fleetingly like anybody else, there are hints of Britten and Tippett here and there. The half-hour, four movement Sonata is a remarkable example of Maw thinking symphonically and transcending the limitations of writing for a solo instrument. The structure, seriousness and dramatic momentum of the piece are reminiscent of the Bartók. The first movement pits two contrasting themes against each other, with a vigorous development; the second confronts a brusque march with irreverent ‘burlesque' material; the muted, inward-looking slow movement is an elegy for the composer Jacob Druckman; songlike and wistful rather than melancholy, it latterly develops aspects of a funeral march. The finale is an exuberant, exhilarating flight of virtuosity.