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.