Colin MATTHEWS (b.
1946) Alphabicycle Order for children's choir, narrator and orchestra
Horn Concerto (2001) [22:27]
Richard Watkins (horn); children's choir: Henry Goodman (narrator)
Mark Elder (Concerto); Edward Gardner (Alphabicycle)
rec. BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 12 July
2004 (Alphabicycle); Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 10-11
July 2007. DDD
full track-list at end of review HALLE CD HLL
Now in his sixty-fourth year and three years the junior of his
composer brother David, it is hard to believe that Colin Matthews
is approaching an age whereby that affectionate, if paradoxically
unflattering tag of 'elder statesman' amongst British
composers might be applied.
Something of an English Magnus Lindberg in his mastery of huge
orchestral canvases and forces such as those employed in the
Fourth and Fifth orchestral Sonatas, Matthews' considerable
influence as a composer has been mirrored by his extra-curricular
activities as a mover and shaker on the contemporary music scene,
most notably in his founding of the record label NMC. It's
a label that as well as blossoming into an artistically valuable
jewel in the crown amidst the archive of British recorded music,
continues to provide a unique and invaluable service to British
composers and contemporary music in general.
Matthews has enjoyed a close working relationship with the Hallé
as the orchestra's Associate Composer in recent years and
this is not the first time the orchestra has featured his work
on disc. His stunning orchestrations of Debussy's Preludes
are well worth exploring. This though is the first Hallé
CD to be wholly dedicated to his original music and a very fine
release it is in every way, whilst also providing an excellent
introduction to his rich orchestral sound-world.
Written in 2001 for the soloist on this recording Richard Watkins,
the Horn Concerto is one of only three concertos Matthews
has written, the other two both being for cello. There is however
the enticing prospect of a Violin Concerto planned for
the CBSO. The Horn Concerto is a work that evokes the
hunting ancestry of the solo instrument in its initial baying
offstage call to arms, skilfully combining this with the singing
qualities of the horn in a shifting nightscape of haunting,
glistening beauty that ranks alongside Oliver Knussen's
similarly memorable 1994 concerto for Barry Tuckwell.
Ravishingly and delicately scored, Matthews' Concerto takes
the soloist on a journey that progresses through several clearly
discernible yet wholly cohesive scenes, all of which are conveniently
tracked on the disc to aid Paul Griffiths' detailed and
lucid liner-notes. Melodically and harmonically subtle yet at
once transparent, Matthews is masterful in his drawing in of
the listener in a concerto that proves memorable for both its
soloistic and orchestral qualities. It is to be hoped that it
finds a permanent and deserved place in the French horn repertoire.
With parallels in the brilliance of the orchestration apart,
Alphabicycle Order takes the listener on a journey of
a very different kind to the often shimmering yet dark beauty
of the Horn Concerto. Setting a total of twenty-six fleeting,
alphabetically-ordered rhymes by Christopher Reid for narrator,
children's choir and orchestra, Alphabicycle Order
proves conclusively that Colin Matthews is a composer that can
turn his hand to what can be an immensely tricky genre with
both style and élan.
Like Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes, Reid's poems
are often highly witty, whilst occasionally tinged with the
grotesque as we hear about the Nose-bush that should
never be picked, the unnerving blood sucking cricket 'Vumpire',
the perils of 'Fountain-climbing' and the medical
aversion to xylophone's, known as 'Xylophonophobia',
a condition not to be relished for professional musicians.
Matthews is in every way the musical equal of the slickness
of Reid's wordplay and rather than allowing the music to
descend into a romp, a trap all too easy to fall into, produces
a score of considerable sophistication, most notably in the
orchestration which is at times truly virtuosic. The writing
for children's voices, often in unison but sometimes veering
off into tricky little canons as in the ludicrously but wonderfully
titled Umbrellaphant, is despatched with relish and enthusiasm
by the children of the Hallé Youth Choir and Cantores
Roborienses and this live recording of the world premiere is
aided by the charismatic narration of Henry Goodman, familiar
from the Hallé's complete recording of Vaughan Williams'
The Wasps along with the film Notting Hill.
It all adds up to a thoroughly engaging release indeed and one
which deserves to succeed on every level.
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