A radical Peter Maxwell Davies first visited New Zealand in my student days, preaching doom for traditional classical music and Wagner in particular. By 1980, the English composer would turn up in my Sandringham lounge, charming a circle of my music students, playing a Schubert piano sonata.

When Davies died in March, as a knight of the realm and Master of the Queen's Music, he had put radicalism aside, in music if not in politics. He left us a folio of fine symphonies, 10 marvellous Naxos String Quartets, and many other major concert works, written from his Northern retreat in the Orkneys.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has released a most attractive sampling of orchestral works, interspersed with solos by guitarist Sean Shibe. The threat of climate change hangs over the two most recent orchestral offerings.

Ebb of Winter is suffused with the spirit of the Orkneys, catching fragile seasonal beauties with clear woodwind flurries and dark, throaty string sonorities.


Davies describes his 2008 Last Door of Light as "a meditation on individual and communal vulnerability," and the players catch the drama of grievous climatic disintegration as a lyrical folksong is threatened by ominous textures around it.

Last call for the orchestra is the 1985 An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise. This is a flagrant party piece, complete with bagpiper, delivered with the enthusiasm of a rousing Hogmanay.

Shibe's penultimate guitar solo, Farewell to Stromness is short and sweet, its tune - crammed with scotch snaps - was particularly close to its composer's heart.

The 1981 Hill Runes is more challenging, with five miniatures that investigate the coloristic potential of Shibe's instrument. He gives it a magnificent performance, especially in the luminous resonances of a breathtaking Adagio molto.

What: (Linn, through Ode Records)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: A great English composer is farewelled with poetry and politics