Peter Maxwell Davies: The Last Island

Peter Maxwell Davies’s later music powerfully evokes the isolated majesty of his Orkney island home, yet it also bears witness to his talent for friendship – to his associations, both personal and musical, with friends and supporters in Scotland and further afield. Among the warmest was with William Conway, whom Davies first encountered as principal cellist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and for whom he wrote the demanding solo part of his second Strathclyde Concerto.

And it was for the Hebrides Ensemble, founded by Conway in 1991, that Davies wrote several of the most impressive and personal works to arise from his late engagement with chamber music – a genre in which he had previously worked rarely, here revealed as the 'last island' of this remarkable and prolific composer's output. On its second Delphian album, the Ensemble reciprocates Davies's friendship with definitive performances of works from his last decade, including the single completed movement of a string quartet left unfinished at his death.

"Maxwell Davies’s intensity of expression is here distilled into chamber music, by turns simple and complex, furious and tender…The disc closes with the composer’s very last work, a brief movement from an unfinished string quartet, its radiant finish a touching finale to this powerful disc"

"The unique character of Davies’s late style is grasped and understood in the Hebrides Ensemble’s highly nuanced performances, described by the composer as ‘a crew of a ship that comes into harbour now and again with supplies. And not just the bare essentials. There are always surprises, little treats that one isn’t expecting."

"This beguiling — even transfigured —sequence of late works by Davies ends with String Quartet Movement (2016), from a quartet unfinished at his death, and suggests a touching symmetry with the outset of his prolific career and the freestanding Quartet Movement of 1952."

"a final, elusive String Quartet Movement that remained unfinished, evaporat[es] into nothing at the close. Prospero-like, Max lays down his manuscripts: the dedicated Hebrides Ensemble, led by cellist William Conway, feel in close and constant touch with the composer."

"These are stand-out, definitive performances, beautifully recorded by this enterprising Scottish label."

"Played with the same questing energy that the Hebrides players bring to all these works"

"[Hebrides Ensemble] play with exemplary care and expressive tenderness"

"the musicians’ incisive accounts, at once rapturous and hard-edged, wonderfully capture his sense of rugged fantasy...These are deeply felt, thoughtful yet vivid performances, and the recorded sound is gratifyingly warm and intimate."


"expertly, sensitively and persuasively played"

Producer: Paul Baxter
Recording venue(s): Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh
Recording dates: 27-29 January 2017
Physical format: Jewel case
Number of discs: 1
Number of tracks: 10
Total playing time: 1:16:51
First UK release date: 18 August 2017
Album ID: DCD34178

Records of the Year 2017

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