Saturday, 27 August 2016


A Treasury of Early Music

For the opera Taverner Peter Maxwell Davies drew some inspiration from Early Music. However, the audio links appears to be largely orientated toward "mainstream" Classical Music...

The above is Part II of a recording of Taverner, and appears to include some Experimental Early Music which might be worth hearing for those interested.

Peter Maxwell Davies.jpg

Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016): Taverner, opera lirica in due atti su libretto dell'Autore op. 45 (1962/1968, rev. 1970) -- London Voices e New London Children's Choir diretti da Ronald Corp e Peter Ford --- BBC Symphony Orchestra, Fretwork e His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts diretti da Oliver Knussen ---

Atto II


Scene 1: A Courtroom
Scene 2: The Chapel
Scene 3: The Throne Room
Scene 4: The same


Personaggi e interpreti

John Taverner: Martyn Hill, tenore
Jester: David Wilson-Johnson, basso
King, Captain, Archangel Michael: Stephen Richardson, basso
Rose Parrowe e Virgin Mary: Fiona Kimm, mezzosoprano
Priest, God: Michael Chance, controtenore
White Abbot: Quentin Hayes, baritono
Richard Taverner: Peter Sidhom, basso
Cardinal, Archbishop: Stuart Kale, tenore
1st Monk, Archangel Gabriel: John Graham Hall, tenore
2nd Monk, Antichrist: Peter Hall, tenore
Boy: Tom Jackman, voce Bianca

Peter Maxwell Davies 

(Reference is made to David Munrow, and his Consort in the 1972 performance of Taverner. )

The British composer has been celebrating his 75th birthday with a production of his ambitious opera, Taverner. It's a work that had a far from auspicious start, as he explains

How did you come to write this large-scale opera?

I was a postgraduate and started really serious work on it in 1962 when I was studying with the composer Roger Sessions at Princeton University. But I never thought it would be put on, and it was an unpractical work in that it had stage bands and a lot of people in the cast. Quite apart from being inexperienced, I made no compromise whatever about the difficulty with the instrumental music, or difficulty with the singing – it was just exactly as I wanted it to be done and heard in my head.

So how did it come to be staged by the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in 1972?

Edward Downes, bless his heart, had the idea that Covent Garden might like to do this; he wasn’t the music director but he had a certain amount of clout. So I went to Sir Georg Solti’s house – he was then in charge of the Opera House – and played it as a piano duet in this very posh house somewhere in London. And he said no he didn’t like it – Covent Garden wouldn’t do it. But then the direction changed with Colin Davis, who thought it was a good idea. Ken Russell, with whom I was working with at the time on [the films] The Boyfriend and The Devils, said he would direct the production. But then he actually heard some of the music and said ‘No I won’t!’. It was a bit unfair because it was played on the piano, and a piano reduction of a big score like this doesn’t sound that wonderful, so you get a very jaundiced earful. Anyway Michael Geliot was brought in and he did it.

How successful was that production?

It was very well received; it had a very famous set by Ralph Koltai that was the prima donna of the whole thing. The audiences were good, but I don’t think the music made much of an impression. Ted Downes conducted, but there was a lot to fight with. First of all I didn’t have any clout – nobody took any notice of anything I had to say. So for instance the instruments playing the early music, David Munrow’s group, were off-stage and the sound that piped through into the Opera House was just dismal – it was a distant squeaking and you couldn’t hear it at all. The chorus was hopeless – they thought the music rubbish and they weren’t prepared to work at it. The orchestra were a little bit better but it didn’t really ‘sound’, and the result was a total flop from that point of view.

But now you have this recording.

I’m absolutely delighted that this wonderful recording with Oliver Knussen is out, and I’m absolutely delighted by the quality of the sound, the editing, the singing and the playing – it’s fabulous. It wasn’t a performance: it’s a studio recording that was all put together in 1996 for a broadcast bit by bit. But then lo and behold, for my 75th birthday, in Glasgow it [was done in November] by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, a wonderful cast and a children’s choir; and the choir of the Glasgow University and the Royal Academy of Music and Drama are doing a far better job than ever the Royal Opera House chorus did all those years ago – they can actually sing the notes and do it without grumbling!

Interview by Daniel Jaffé

Peter Maxwell Davies's Taverner is reviewed in the January issue of BBC Music Magazine

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