Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Randolph Stow created an intellectually rigorous but wilfully anarchic portrait of George III in 1969, which is no less of a challenge to performers and audience today.
Young baritone Marcus Farnsworth has to be congratulated on so thoroughly embracing the role and making its demanding score appear such light work. In a military top coat over somewhat soiled institutional bedwear, he brought the character alive in the intimate space created by the Hebrides Ensemble's instruments and Martin Palmer's lighting.
Cellist Will Conway's band of players, costumed in scarlet waistcoats, added their own contributions beyond the score, with flautist Rosemary Eliot nimble and bird-like, and violinist Lesley Hatfield distraught at the trashing of her fiddle. Ben Twist's staging seemed less than completely realised here – perhaps Edinburgh's Jam House (the old BBC concert hall) will prove more conducive tomorrow evening.
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What is a complete success is the context the Hebrides have given Max's monodrama. It is preceded by showpieces for percussionist Oliver Cox (the virtuosic Rebonds B by Iannis Xenakis) and Eliot (George Benjamin's Flight), the very Max-like Purcell Garland pieces by Colin Matthews and Oliver Knussen, scored for a clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (Philip Moore) quartet, and Thomas Ades's Catch for the same forces. It required clarinettist Yann Ghiro to be even more mobile than Eliot was later, and made an effective theatrical and musical prelude to the main event. Whether the thematic link between the pieces stands up to intellectual scrutiny might be a matter of debate, but in sonic terms it flew.