and Matthews would have had an interesting conversation," conductor
Michael Tilson Thomas told a Davies Hall audience before the world premiere
of the British composer's Reflected Images, commissioned by the
symphony. "They both had a great interest in the music that preceded
them," he noted. Brahms was fascinated with Bach and Mozart. Colin Matthews
has been working on full orchestrations of Debussy's piano preludes,
has added an extra Planet to Holst's famous collection and has arranged
music by composers from Beethoven to Berg. Matthews was associate composer
for the London Symphony Orchestra when Tilson Thomas was conducting
it, which led to this commission.
cross-century fantasy discussion might have been interesting, but unfortunately
for Matthews his 13-minute work was sandwiched between Brahms' Tragic
Overture and a luminous performance by Vadim Repin of Brahms' Violin
Concerto. The towering majesty of this music made Matthews' piece
seem almost trivial.
not a bad piece. It had some moments of fine craftsmanship, especially
a rhythmically diffuse first section subtitled "waltz." There was about
15 seconds of actual waltz in it, the rest a quiet rustling that shifted
ambiguously between three and four beats to the measure, the one-step-removed
feeling reminiscent of Debussy or Ravel. The next section, meant to
be a Mahler-like march heard from a distance, went by without much portent.
A recitative-like section for strings promised something more than we
got in the finale, which the composer subtitled "future movement." Ultimately
the ambiguous harmonies left an unsettled impression. Maybe that's what
Matthews intended, but in the context of two totally formed arcs of
music by one of the giants of the 19th century, this 21st-century knickknack
sort of hung up in the air like an abstract mobile in a room full of
in another context, Relfected Images would have made a strong
impression, but it followed a beautifully shaped, richly textured performance
of the Tragic Overture. Everything about it was delicious. The
way the strings, and then the winds, articulated the dotted-eighth figures
was magical. Over a plush carpet of deep string sound, Tilson Thomas
fashioned a sense of inexorable movement that kept the momentum through
the final measures.
concerto found Repin and Tilson Thomas in perfect synch, infusing the
music with all the nobility and grace it needed to triumph. After a
majestic orchestral introduction, Tilson Thomas seemed happy to let
Repin carry the ball, and he did so with warmth and welcome clarity.
There was no mannerism, no artifice in Repin's work. The cadenzas sparkled
without becoming glitzy. The long arch of the slow movement spun out
like a long silk scarf, the finale dancing like a butterfly, alighting
gently at the end. Repin simply played the music with genial phrasing
and fine articulation, and the results were immensely satisfying.