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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)
HallÚ 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
HALLE CD HLL 7515 [53:53]

Experience Classicsonline


It is good to see that Colin Matthews is getting some attention on record to match, in some measure, the sumptuous Chandos recording of the music of his brother David. Colin has been associated with the HallÚ since 2001 and his Debussy orchestrations have been praised by MWI’s John Quinn and Bob Briggs (review review) .

Alphabicycle Order is a half-hour fantasy using narration and children's singing with a brilliant orchestral canvas. It stands in the lines of tradition established by Rawsthorne's Practical Cats at one extreme and Mathias's This Worldes Joie at the other. Indeed the glint and tinkle of the percussion rather suggest that Colin Matthews was listening closely to Mathias in the 1960s and 1970s. We know Henry Goodman's voice from another peak in HallÚ's distinguished catalogue: the complete music for RVW's The Wasps. This work is no charter for softies. There are some really eerie moments and every one of Christopher Reid’s poems - one for each letter of the alphabet – has a tang, a barb, a chuckle or a screech. The squeak of the trembling Jelly poem complete with a howlingly bad play on words is remarkable - once heard never forgotten. Nosebush has a Brittenesque spit and spatter of pizzicato as well as some childlike innocent word fun. The Oy Oy has the narrator rushing through his words to the off-sync shouts of Oy! Oy! from the children's choir. How dreadful if this work had been too civilised – too fifties! Instead there's enough danger here to ensure it stays the provocative side of civilised. There's also enough in the way of aural surprises to keep everyone jumping. Adult sentiments cut across and through this music so that participants and listener are challenged and shocked/intrigued. How about the umpire Vampire - needed to keep today's sportsmen in order and ready to mete out bloody retribution for the slightest defiance. The strange fanciful creatures reminded me of another work from an earlier era. It’s just as zany and awaits a first recording: Josef Holbrooke's Bogey Beasts to illustrations by Sidney Sime. Matthews plays dissolute fun with Saint-Sńens carnival. In The Yatch harbour is bullied into rhyming with macabre and the poem ends with the wreck of The Yatch to the words: “Poorly built … so badly spelt!”.

All the words are printed in the booklet and the performance is complete with applause from an audience otherwise very quiet.

Matthews has written three concertos, two for cello (one of those for Rostropovich) and this one for horn. This work is luxuriously tracked in ten segments. The romping orchestral horns are off-stage and distant - as prescribed by the composer - in this recording. The work is reflective, solipsistic and pleasing in its rhapsodic movement from episode to episode, pulse to pulse. It is glimmeringly Bergian at times and dreamily evocative of the Hoddinott concerto at others. Those off-stage orchestral horns romp and whoop in the central Scorrevole. Seemingly goaded, the soloist enters into the defiant fanfaring while the strings skitter about like a scattering nest of pismires. The music rises to some majesty in the Poco sostenuto. In fact the marking sostenuto is part of the name of each of the final four movements. The music in tr. 34 has the quality of a dream in swirling fog which parts when the lunar light cuts through in glassy bubbles. The horn's solo role involves movement among the orchestra, across the stage and joining the off-stage horns. This piece of theatre recalls the Clarinet Concerto of Thea Musgrave. This Horn Concerto is held by an immanent drifting leisurely pulse.

Good annotation and a sensible and much needed long silence before we get to the Horn Concerto.

The recording quality is nothing short of superb.

Two works encompassing worlds of the imagination that are stimulating, zany, dark and surreal.
Rob Barnett





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