Matthew Taylor is a consummate string quartet composer. His music enshrines a personal voice that may reflect influences but has deeply absorbed them. It is fluidly constructed and generates its own sense of time and direction. It is marked by strong characterisation and genuine craft and it honours the past without being in any way dependent on it.
The three quartets on this disc, unusually all played by different groups, offer supporting evidence. The Fifth Quartet
was written between 2007 and 2008 and opens with a jagged vehemence that nestles somewhere between Bartók and, more pertinently, the opening of Beethoven’s Op.95 quartet, a work Taylor acknowledges as lying behind this opening. Thenceforth Taylor manages to ensure that the three movements – an Allegro furioso
, a Fuga
and a final Lullaby - run seamlessly, and that textures and dynamics register fully. The concluding adagio
, the lullaby, registers as a slow, but inevitable winding down, an ‘all passion spent’ span that reflects the direction of the music with well-calibrated logic.
The Sixth Quartet
overlapped the Fifth, compositionally, having been started in 2006 but finished in the same year as the earlier work, 2008. Here taut anxiety is replaced, in the opening, by leaping energy (‘Giubiloso’) that gradually dissipates into more reflective, expressive material leading to a Romanza
and then an Andante
where individual textures and lines are pursued rather more than strenuous unisons. This more exposed sound world may reflect something of Holmboe’s or Robert Simpson’s voices. The finale returns, geometrically, to the vigour and energy of the opening though also looks to the inner movements too.
The following year Taylor finished his Seventh Quartet
. It exemplifies those qualities of logic and fluidity that run throughout these works. Though here the climaxes register powerfully, what remains perhaps even more impressive is the sheer skill with which transitions are enacted – how well they are prepared for and judged. The moods and contrasts are strong in themselves and whilst there are elements of slapstick in the scherzo – a tribute to Taylor’s favoured comedians – he manages deftly to nod to the airiness of Mendelssohnian chamber writing whilst never straying into pastiche.
The Allegri and Dante may be better known, but the Salieri Quartet is equally responsive and flexible in Taylor’s music, and all three have been beautifully recorded. Admirers of this dextrous and valuable composer should have no qualms in acquiring this disc.