The Purcell original is gradually brought into view out of a 'shimmering haze', inspected for its implications (which include some lowlife moments of hillbilly and foxtrot), and then released back into the mists.
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Maxwell Davies has described the Purcell original as here “emerging gradually out of a blue haze”, and this apt image could be applied to the realisation as a whole in that it comprises a delicate study in reality and illusion, with the original Fantasia gone through in “dumb show”, but seen from many different distances and angles. After reaching a climax in a hillbilly style, the work dissolves back into phosphorescent shimmer in which it began. Intrinsic to the “atmospheric lighting” of the work is its transportation from Purcell’s F major to the much more rarefied key of F sharp, which acts as a colour-filter under which a familiar musical object becomes insubstantial and remote. The lower level of old pitch, which would rightly be invoked in an authentic context, is not relevant here because Maxwell Davies is playing on the psychological connotations of “familiar” and “unfamiliar” keys as we know them with present-day ears.
The first performance of FANTASIA UPON TIME was on 24 July 12972 as part of a BBC Promenade Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London. The performers were The Fires of London, conducted by the composer.
© Steven Pruslin