Maxwell Davies Solstice of Light

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Maxwell Davies Solstice of Light

  • Solstice of Light
  • (5) Carols
  • Hymn to the Word of God

This is a welcome and important issue. The 46-minute Solstice of Light (1979) is major Maxwell Davies, far too little known, and it needs performers with the confidence and polish of the King's College, Cambridge musicians to do it Justice.
In some respects, of course, the piece is not obvious King's repertory. It's a long way from Kirkwall to Cambridge, and the raw striving mythology of Orkney fisherfolk celebrated in George Mackay Brown's occasionally contrived verses might be more authentically captured by the mixed choir referred to in the score. Then there is the great echoing cavern of King's chapel, which swallows up a fair amount of the florid writing in the solo organ movements. The performance has an authentic intensity, nevertheless, relishing the music's pictorial as well as its ritual qualities, and vividly capturing the essential contrast between quite simple melodic lines and the rich, refined harmony that results when the lines are put together. As far as the acoustic allows us to tell Christopher Hughes copes skilfully with the considerable demands of Maxwell Davies's organ writing, and while Neil Mackie is as tested as any tenor would be by the convoluted melismas of the ''Norsemen'' movement, he makes the final invocation to St Magnus extremely moving.
The disc adds to its value with spot-on readings of the early Carols, and a luminous account of the recent Hymn to the Word of God (in Greek—English text only in the leaflet) whose harmonic world recalls Solstice of Light itself.'

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