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Colin MATTHEWS (b. 1946)
Alphabicycle Order for children's choir, narrator and orchestra (2007) [31:12]
Horn Concerto (2001) [22:27]
Richard Watkins (horn); children's choir: Henry Goodman (narrator)
Hallé Orchestra/Sir 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 7515 [53:53]

Experience Classicsonline

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.  

Christopher Thomas 

See also review by Rob Barnett

Colin MATTHEWS (b.1946)
Alphabicycle Order
Part I
1 Alphabike [2:05]
2 Butterflea [1:24]
3 Cluckwork [0:33]
4 Diffodils [1:37]
5 Eyeland [1:06]
7 Fountain-climbing [1:53]
Part II
8 Gruntparents [0:41]
9 Hair-bear [1:03]
10 Iciclist [1:04]
11 Knu [1:18]
Part III
12 Liarbird [1:23]
13 Moonologue [1:44]
Part IV
14 Nose-bush [0:39]
15 Oy-oy [0:46]
16 Popgum [1:02]
17 Queen Bean [0:55]
18 Rabbitsong [1:42]
Part V
19 Sleepdogs [1:59]
20 Trash-Chest [0:56]
21 Umbrellaphant [1:02]
22 Vumpire [0:36]
23 Wherewolf [0:58]
24 Xylophonophobia [1:27]
25 Yatch [0:48]
26 Zagzig [1:41]
Horn Concerto
Hallé CD HLL 7515 [53:53] 


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