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Matthew TAYLOR (b. 1964)
Piano Trio Op. 17 (1993-94) [29:12]
String Quartet No. 3 Op. 18 (1995) [17:45]
Conflict and Consolation Op. 19 (1996) [17:38]
Lowbury Piano Trio (Pauline Lowbury, violin; Ursula Smith, cello; Elizabeth Burley, piano)
Schidlof Quartet (Ofer Falk and Rafael Todes, violins; Graham Oppenheimer, viola; Oleg Kogan, cello)
Members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. St. Georgeís, Bristol, 10 November 1997 (Piano Trio); Music Department, University of Exeter, 19 April 1997 (String Quartet No. 3); St. Augustineís Church, Kilburn, 13 November 1996 (Conflict and Consolation). DDD
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0015 [65:14]

 

Matthew Taylorís musical education took him on a route that could be described as largely conventional. Studies under the shrewd guidance of Robin Holloway at Cambridge University were supplemented by a period with Edward Gregson at the Royal Academy of Music.

Yet it was Taylorís friendship with and admiration for Robert Simpson that was to play a crucial role in shaping Taylorís development as a composer. Indeed his name may be more recognisable to some as the conductor of Simpsonís Eleventh and final Symphony in Hyperionís pioneering survey of Simpsonís symphonic output than for his own now substantial catalogue, which includes three symphonies.

Unlike Simpson, whose many well documented years at the BBC ended in conflict and political loggerheads, Taylorís diverse career encompasses multiple roles as composer, teacher, conductor and pianist. In the music itself Taylor and Simpson have more in common. Like Simpson, Taylor shares a predilection for works on a substantial scale, nearly always architecturally underpinned by the use of traditional forms. Many of Simpsonís musical heroes, including Beethoven and Haydn, are shared by Taylor whose inherently symphonic thought processes take a direct line back from Simpson to Nielsen and Sibelius, another two of Simpsonís revered masters.

This is the first disc dedicated to Matthew Taylorís music and two of the works immediately demonstrate his interest in traditional forms of structure. The Op. 17 Piano Trio draws on Beethoven, in particular his Piano Sonatas Op. 31, No. 2 in D Minor (the Tempest) and the final Sonata, Op. 111 in C Minor. The latter Sonataís first movement forms the model for the first movement of Taylorís Trio, effectively a sonata-allegro that alternates passages of brief repose with a backdrop of predominantly turbulent material. Interestingly and as is the case on numerous other occasions in both the Piano Trio and Third String Quartet, it is echoes of Tippett rather than Simpson that often surface in both the harmony and counterpoint. At fifteen minutes long the central panel of the work, an extended Theme and Variations, is very much the fulcrum of the Trio. Falling into distinct halves, the movement gradually emerges from the darkness of its opening to arrive at a conclusion of still serenity that is the precursor to the understated Allegretto finale, an effect that Taylor intended to counteract the comparative violence of the opening movement. Beethoven is again the model, this time the finale of his Tempest Sonata providing the impetus, with the ghost of Tippett once again not far away.

The Third String Quartet is a more condensed affair, commissioned by the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and first performed there in 1995, since when Taylor has added a Fourth Quartet to his canon. Cast in three movements of roughly equal length, the work takes as its basis the potential of a single chord, the first movement opening in dynamic fashion before passing through passages of occasionally scherzo-like playfulness. A wistful Poco allegretto e misterioso slow movement provides an affecting interlude before the rhythmic vitality and drive of the ensuing Vivace finale appears to propel the quartet to an energetic conclusion that ultimately falls away to an ending of suddenly disarming simplicity.

Conflict and Consolation follows an exact chronological line from the Piano Trio and Third Quartet and was written at the request of the Kensington Symphony Orchestra for a performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1996. Boldly scored for orchestral brass, timpani and percussion the opening movement is a tour de force for all concerned. The music launching itself into a series of aggressive, strident figures that enter into a pitched battle for supremacy before a manic percussion cadenza breaks through the battle and leaves a sole, questioning tuba receding into the distance. Consolation comes in the form of an extended second movement that explores a series of brass chorales, each of contrasting character and instrumentation before the music once again subsides to expose the tuba singing alone in conclusion.

Matthew Taylor might not speak with a voice of striking originality, but that he speaks with authority is never in doubt. All three of these works are convincing and cohesive in their musical thought. Above all they present a powerful case for the survival of the essentially symphonic composer in the stylistic maelstrom that is the early twenty-first century.

Christopher Thomas

 



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