David MATTHEWS (b. 1943)
The String Quartets - Volume 1
String Quartet No.4 Op.27 (1981) [30:55]
Adagio Op.56a (1990) [4:00]
String Quartet No.6 Op.56 (1991) [16:19]
String Quartet No.10 Op.84 (2001) [12:52]
Kreutzer Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skærved and Mihailo Trandalovski (violins), Morgan Goff
(viola) and Neil Heyde (cello))
rec. Dukes Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London, 4-5 August 2008
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0058 [64:03]
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 was mostly 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.
Beautiful works in magnificent performances and recording