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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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David MATTHEWS (b.1943)
Cantiga (1988) [23’42]
September Music (1979/81) [10’00]
Introit (1981) [6’08]
Symphony No.4 (1989/90) [27’19]
Jill Gomez (soprano)
Bournemouth Sinfonietta/John Carewe
East of England Orchestra/Malcolm Nabarro (Symphony)
Recorded in the Great Hall, Nottingham University, Sept. 1993 (Symphony)
Winter Gardens, Bournemouth, Nov. 16-18, 1991 (rest)
NMC ANCORA NMCD084 [67’09]

This disc is part of an exciting series on the superb NMC label that aims to give us back catalogue and deleted issues at mid-price. This in itself is to be applauded, but as the man behind NMC, David Matthews’ brother and fellow composer Colin Matthews, states in the booklet ‘NMC’s principle, from the beginning, has been never to delete…so it’s a natural development for NMC to acquire and re-release significant recordings that have disappeared from view … and breathe life into music that should always be at hand’. It is shameful that the big record companies do not have more faith in their own catalogue, and contemporary music suffers most from the deletion axe.

These performances actually originated on the excellent Unicorn and Collins labels, both of which suffered the ultimate fate, so we really must be grateful that such superb music as here is rescued and is now available to a whole new public. The most substantial item is the 4th Symphony, originally a CD single (itself a good idea), and a very imaginative and compelling piece it is. It is classical in proportion and design (though in 5 movements) and the scoring is even for a Haydn-like ensemble (it comes as no surprise that it was commissioned by the English Chamber Orchestra).

Any ‘modernist’ features are consciously kept in check, and one is aware of great harmonic, textural and, particularly, melodic content being uppermost in the composer’s mind. There is great physical energy here and not a little Haydnesque humour. The second movement is an intense, rhythmic scherzo and is followed by a song-like andante scored mainly for strings. I love the witty fourth movement, marked fast tango, slightly manic, and it makes a quirkily inventive replacement for the classical minuet. The whole piece has the feeling of a real symphony, where ideas are often linked and logically lead on to satisfying conclusions. The performance is good rather than great, the strings being a bit stretched in places (what a pity it’s not the ECO), but in no way does it seriously mar enjoyment.

The other really substantial work is Cantiga (simply the Spanish word for song), which is subtitled The Song of Inês de Castro, and is a dramatic scena based on a poetic narrative by Maggie Hemingway. This famous historical ‘legend’ has proved fertile for composers (James MacMillan chose the bloody, doomed romance for his first opera) and Matthews has fashioned an Expressionistic mini-opera that is powerful and brooding. The modest orchestral forces are used with great ingenuity, particularly the two interludes, and the whole thing lingers in the memory, so strong is the atmosphere conjured up. The success is due in no small way to the performance by Jill Gomez, who suggested and then commissioned the work, and her deeply felt and superbly committed singing is unlikely to be surpassed.

The two smaller pieces add effective balance to the disc. September Music is lyrical, heartfelt and almost Impressionistic in its colours, and the string writing strikes me as continuing a long line of great English string works. The ‘English’ connection is also apparent in Introit, with its echoes of Tippett (particularly the main 5-note idea) and Vaughan Williams. Indeed, Matthews admits quite openly to paying homage to a number of English composers in the piece which, far from sounding derivative, actually heightens the moving sense of tradition and context. When the two trumpets finally enter near the end, the glorious bell-like peroration evokes a musical heritage that feels as solid as the Cathedral setting it was designed for.

Recording quality is first rate throughout, and performances are in the main excellent. The presentation is ideal, with authoritative and readable notes by the composer, together with song text and biographies. A superb issue which deserves success.

Tony Haywood



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