In his booklet notes David Matthews admits his interest in traditional
forms; and his present output includes seven symphonies and eleven
string quartets (with a twelfth in progress). Stylistically, too,
he admits to being a tonal composer “attempting to integrate the
musical language of the present with the past and to explore the
rich traditional forms”. Although his music remains rooted in
some broad 20th
century tradition, it nevertheless
breathes fresh air into it, so that the music remains contemporary.
The String Quartet No.4 Op.27
is by far the most
substantial and the most ambitious of the three recorded in this
first volume. According to the composer, it is also “the closest
[I] have come to the classical archetype”. The first movement
is a short prelude with a more dramatic section. This is followed
by a lively, often capricious Scherzo at times reminiscent of
Tippett. The ensuing movement is a song without words, ending
with another Scherzo-like section revisiting material of the preceding
movements “as if in a dream”. The final and longest movement opens
with a dramatic, declamatory cadenza for each instrument in turn
climaxing with a repeat of the dramatic episode from the first
movement. It ends with a slow, quiet coda.
The short Adagio Op.56a
composed in memory of Peter
Fuller, a friend of the composer, not only forms the basis of
the Sixth String Quartet’s slow movement but also provides material
for the outer movements. The slow movement, thus, presents a more
developed working-out of the Adagio and is much more varied in
mood. Sudden angry outbursts briefly disrupt the predominantly
mournful mood of the music. The outer movements are again in a
more or less traditional sonata form with two contrasted subjects.
The much later String Quartet No.10 Op.84
composed in Australia. In his booklet notes the composer explains
how he noted the songs of four Australian birds (an Australian
magpie, an Australian cuckoo Koel, a Pied Butcherbird and an Eastern
Whipbird). The songs of these birds were used in a work for solo
violin Munro’s Song
composed for Peter Sheppard
Skærved, the Kreutzer Quartet’s first violin. This work was rewritten
as the first movement of the Tenth String Quartet which the composer
conceived as “a little dawn chorus”. The use of metal practice
mutes creates a beautiful mysterious effect. The second movement
is “a dance for the morning” in which all four birds join again.
The music briefly pauses for a slower section based on Munro’s
Song. The coda restores the opening tempo and the movement ends
calmly with “the familiar falling third of the European cuckoo
call, bringing the music back to this side of the world”.
Each of these string quartets in its own way clearly demonstrates
Matthews’ fresh approach to the medium. Incidentally the same
might be said about any of his symphonies. The writing for strings
is superbly realised and the memorable and often beautiful thematic
material considerably contributes to one’s enjoyment of the music.
The Kreutzer Quartet’s polished and committed readings are a joy
from start to finish and are superbly rendered by Toccata’s natural,
warm recorded sound. This very fine release is a most welcome
addition to David Matthews’ growing discography. I hope that the
forthcoming instalments will be released soon.