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Colin MATTHEWS (b. 1946)
Sonata No.5 Landscapes (1977/81)a
Cello Concerto No.1 (1983/4)b
Hidden Variables (1989/1992)c
Memorial (1993)c
Quatrain (1989)c
Machines and Dreams (1991)c
Alexander Baillie (cello)a; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestraa; London Sinfoniettab; London Symphony Orchestrac; John Careweab, Michael Tilson Thomasc
Recorded: Sender Freies Berlin, Grosser Sendesaal, October 1984 (Sonata No.5); Watford Town Hall, August 1985 (Cello Concerto No.1); Studio 1, Abbey Road Studios, London, July 1995 (Hidden Variables, Memorial, Quatrain) and (live) Barbican Centre, London, January 1991 (Machines and Dreams)
NMC ANCORA D 101 [58:11 + 50:27]


Sonata No.5 “Landscapes” and the Cello Concerto No.1 were the first works by Colin Matthews that I heard. They were released o a Unicorn LP - later re-issued in CD format. I knew then that here was a composer whose work would mean much to me; and later recordings from various sources have confirmed that first impression. Matthews’ music is clearly anchored in some 20th Century tradition, while remaining open to various musical trends. Mahler’s model cannot be ignored when listening to Sonata No.5, but the idiom by no means apes that of Mahler or of older composers of the early 20th Century; it explores other fields of technique and expression. Colin Matthews’ music, just as that of his brother David, is refreshingly free from any trendiness and goes its own way undeterred by current fashions. While clearly anchored in its time and place it aims first and foremost at direct communication without being written down to please audiences. And it certainly pleases audiences through its honesty and sincerity.

All the works here, for all their diversity, cannot fail but communicate. The audience’s reaction at the end of the live recording of Machines and Dreams bears ample proof of the appealing nature of Colin Matthews’ music. This delightful work, a present-day Toy Symphony, also clearly demonstrates that modern music, when well-made and sincerely felt, can appeal to wide audiences and young people. This double CD set is also most welcome for it sheds light on Matthews’ musical progress over the years. Sonata No.5 and the First Cello Concerto (one of his finest achievements to date) display some expressionism inherited from Mahler and Berg. After all, Berg’s Drei Orchesterstücke might have been composed by Mahler, had he lived at that period of musical history. On the other hand, the more recent pieces, such as the immensely attractive Hidden Variables (originally scored for large chamber ensemble and re-scored for symphony orchestra three years later), show that Matthews may adopt Minimalism, though it is in no way comparable to the music of Reich or Glass. However, what clearly comes through in these pieces is Matthews’ orchestral mastery. He is a master orchestrator, and his music is always pleasant to the ear and engaging to the mind and heart as well.

Of the more recent works, Memorial is particularly moving. It was inspired by a visit Matthews made to northern France to visit the grave of his grandfather who died on the Somme. It is not surprising that it somewhat anticipates the music of Mark-Anthony Turnage, more or less under similar circumstances, in his own deeply felt Silent Cities. Quatrain for woodwind, brass and percussion maybe rather more austere, but is no less impressive. On the whole, the works on Disc 2 show how Matthews enlarged his sound palette, while preserving the basic components of his music making and – most importantly – remaining true to his ideals.

These beautiful works are all well served by first class readings and excellent recording. It is good to have them available again, hopefully on a permanent basis. So you need not hesitate to get this welcome release if you missed the original Unicorn and Collins discs. You will not be disappointed.


Hubert Culot


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