In The Dark Time Op.38 (1984-5)
Chaconne Op.43 (1986-7)
BBCSO/Jac Van Steen
NMC DO67 [47:28]
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It has been some time since I last reviewed a disc of David Matthews' music.
This is mainly because his works only appear slowly and with very little
fanfare. His Cantiga Op.45, a Proms commission from 1988, recorded
by Unicorn-Kanchana, is no longer available. His 4th symphony
was a Virgin Classics single and some of his chamber works are to be found
on the small label Metronome. NMC have released some of his piano works [DO21S].
I am not sure if his marvellous Piano Trio Op34 recorded on the Kingdom label
is available any longer.
This issue is particularly welcome and marvellously performed and recorded.
Matthews is a traditionalist; he works in his own passionate and individual
way within an accepted medium. I do not wish to imply that he is easy or
undemanding. He is often intensely chromatic but with a key-centre and sometimes
a recognisable tonality. His orchestration is rich, powerful and entirely
successful; not surprising for a man who helped Deryck Cooke on the final
performing version of Mahler's 10th Symphony. He also played a
major part in the orchestration of Paul McCartney's Standing Stone.
I first heard In the Dark Time in 1988 on the radio, a recording I
have kept and played. It is impressively tense and emotional but with brightness
towards the end. The composer says that it was conceived as "October to March
music" and therefore has a particular shape. He tried to "keep up with [the]
appropriate season" as he wrote it. The title comes from T.S. Eliot's 'Little
Gidding' beginning "Midwinter Spring is its own season." A line most pertinent
to me as I heard this new recording first on a cold fresh day in late February.
Chaconne is a 'compositional tour-de-force'. Again the composer admits
to inspiration from the landscape but "the music is not pictorial". In fact
the composer talks of a medieval landscape such as Towton where "26,000 men
were slaughtered in the Wars of the Roses, but which is now at peace".
Reading through the notes the composer talks of D major, or 'the pedal note
F', 'long melodic passages' and a 'horn melody'.
Anyone who can appreciate music of warmth, power and communication will enjoy
this CD. My wife, a non-musician, heard it and thought it 'wonderful'. Not
only that. NMC is an enterprising label on behalf of British music and we
should if possible support them.