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David MATTHEWS (b. 1943)
The Music of Dawn - Symphonic Poem op. 50 (1989-90) [26:59]
Concerto in Azzurro - for cello and orchestra op. 87 (2000-02) [23:47]
A Vision and a Journey - Symphonic Fantasy op. 60 (1992-93, rev. 1996-99) [19:44]
Guy Johnston (cello)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Rumon Gamba
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 4-5 December 2007. DDD
premiere recordings.
CHANDOS CHAN10487 [70:53]
Experience Classicsonline

The backbone of David Matthews’ varied and substantial output rests in his symphonic works: seven symphonies, several concertos and a handful of symphonic poems. That said, one should not ignore his ten string quartets. The three works featured here reinforce the importance of symphonic thinking in Matthews’ music-making. All three are clearly conceived on a large symphonic scale and all three add considerably to his well-deserved reputation as a born symphonist. Even if these works bear titles suggesting some subliminal programme, none of them is overtly programmatic or descriptive, if one excepts a short, almost graphic episode in the early stages of The Music of Dawn Op.59 in which sizzle cymbal, caxixi, metal maracas and rainstick suggest the ebb and flow of the water on the pebble beach [track 2]. On the other hand, in spite of its title, A Vision and a Journey is best experienced as purely abstract music. Indeed, the music in these three works is tightly knit and worked-out in a truly symphonic manner.
The composition of The Music of Dawn Op.59 was partly triggered by Cecil Collins’ eponymous painting that adorns the cover of this release and by Collins’ altarpiece Icon of Divine Light in Chichester Cathedral. The music unfolds unhurriedly from the first ray of light over the sea towards the final blaze of light all through a series of episodes progressing wave-like, while gaining in energy and movement. The scoring is just magnificent throughout with many felicitous orchestral touches, not least in the glowing coda.
A Vision and a Journey Op.60 was composed in 1992-3 and drastically revised between 1996 and 1999. The composer likens it to Sibelius’s Pohjola’s Daughter, thus laying emphasis on the journey’s idea although several more withdrawn episodes (the visions) interrupt the journey without ever losing sight of the ultimate goal.
The cello concerto Concerto in Azzurro Op.87 is in one single large-scale movement, or rather three-movements-in-one (Allegro, Scherzo and Lento Finale) that – again – emphasises the symphonic structure of the work, the more so that the soloist is more a primus inter pares than an isolated individual battling against the orchestra. This, however, does not mean that the solo part is easy. Far from it, and Guy Johnston has the right measure of virtuosity and musicality in his projection of the solo part.
Matthews’ music clearly belongs to a broad 20th century mainstream in which he always has something fresh to say which makes his music immediately appealing and ultimately rewarding. It is easy to spot a number of “influences” on Matthews’ music - one could mention Debussy, Ravel, RVW, Bax and Tippett - but the composer moulds them into a thoroughly personal and convincing whole.
Although it has been reasonably well served so far, in terms of commercial recordings (see the NMC collection), his music is now having a field day not only with his very fine release but also with the forthcoming complete recordings of the symphonies (Dutton) and of the string quartets (Toccata Classics). I hope that Chandos and Rumon Gamba may be persuaded to record Matthews’ substantial choral-orchestral Vespers Op.66.
Rumon Gamba conducts vital, carefully prepared and fully committed readings of these engaging and attractive scores. The recording and production are up to the best Chandos standards. This very fine release is my record of the month.
Hubert Culot


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