• fl(pic,afl)cl(bcl)/pf.cim/vn.vc
  • 40 min

Programme Note

A major work of unconducted chamber music for Davies own ensemble The Fires of London. At the centre by the jangling sound of the cimbalom, and the music generally is of an exuberant and extrovert, even dance-like character. The title does not refer to the three movements - which are a lyrical opening, a scherzo and a quick finale emerging out of a slow movement - but rather to the play throughout of mirror and copy, not least in the writing for three duos of strings, woodwinds and piano/percussion.

Image, Reflection, Shado is in some respects a sequel to Maxwell Davies’ Ave Maris Stella (1975), while also occupying its own territory and expressing the composer’s most recent compositional concerns. Like the earlier work, it is designed as a piece of concentrated chamber music, with the possibility of unconducted performance written into it. And as in Ave Maris, the instrumental sextet is often divided into three duos: wind, strings, piano/percussion, with the bright-toned marimba replaced in the newer work by the more plangent cimbalom. In both works, the pitched percussion instrument figures equally (and very largely) in the musical argument, and in both works it is the percussion together with its partner the piano who face the highest instrumental hurdles, while the responsibilities of mutual listening and counting are shared equally among the six players, and the resultant intensity becomes part of the work’s very fabric.
Despite the presence of much fast and dynamic music, Ave Maris Stella emerges as an inward-looking work, a meditation on time and death inspired by the memory of the Fires’ friend and treasurer, Hans Juda. Image is altogether more outward-looking, its slow music luminous rather than elegiac, its fast music perky rather than violent. If the experience of the earlier work is incorporated anywhere, it is in the new work’s first movement, in which a long, deeply ‘inhaled’ ostinato passage finally explodes with proportionate intensity. The second movement is a large-scale scherzo related to the analogous movement in Maxwell Davies’ recent Symphony No.2, while he final movement begins in a slow and nostalgic vein and gradually transforms into a fast movement whose dance-like rhythm and orgiastic coloration evoke Maxell Davies’ ballet, Salome.
The complete work was first performed by the Fires of London in a live broadcast at the 1983 Lucerne International Festival. Its title, which refers to the work as a while, and not to its three component movements, refers to the compositional processes involved, and is taken from a poem by runic scholar Charles Senior, reproduced herewith:

Calmness enclosed.

Cliff and cloud
measured their mass
in the windless sea.

No movement
until the lone gull
broke the spell
and glided forward
above the still shallows
of the bay.

A clear reflection
of the white wings
sped along the surface
of the silent water.

And then, obliquely,
the dark shadow moved
along the green sea floor,

In that instant
on each plane
for each element
the bird performed.

IMAGE: content in still air.

REFLECTION: true upon still water.

SHADOW: living on still weed and rock.

At this moment of the changing tide
mutations of light and movement
on plant, stone and bird
initiate their mysterious rhythms.

Steven Pruslin




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