Maxwell Davies The Beltane Fire/Caroline Mathilde Suite
I don’t suppose that Sir Peter Maxwell Davies would care for his more tuneful, diatonically euphonious works (I’m thinking of pieces like
You would expect a pronounced Scottish element in the ballet score that is actually set in Scotland; in fact a touching and distinctly Scottish melody, associated with the unfortunate princess, recurs throughout the Caroline Mathilde suite as well, though it isn’t heard in its ‘pure’ form until the very end when Caroline is sent into exile. Elsewhere Maxwell Davies shows a remarkable ability to adapt his style – one of his styles, at all events – to the needs of ballet, writing what any ballet-goer will recognize as a real
Similar elements are present in Beltane Fire, and again the destructive elements are not mocked: the music of the minister and the elders whose influence eventually destroys a folk fiddle-player is quiet, often sinisterly so, but it is never caricatured. The folk music references here are overt. Maxwell Davies writes Orkney fiddle tunes of total authenticity, but also expands their expressive range, in this instance to a wild pagan vigour for the fertility dance around the Beltane flames and to the pathos of the fiddler’s son remembering a destroyed way of life as the curtain falls. As Maxwell Davies’s major concert works move closer towards tonal reference so the pieces in his other style take on deeper seriousness and eloquence. Could the two be moving towards each other? Excellent performances, as by now we would expect, from the Maxwell Davies/BBC Philharmonic partnership; the recordings are clean and vivid.'