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Robert MATTHEW-WALKER (b. 1939)
Violin Sonata No. 2 Op. 149 (2015) [11:55]
Lisa Ueda (violin), Daniele Rinaldo (piano)
Sinfonia Solemnis for Six Percussion Players Op. 31 (1980) [15:54]
Royal Northern College of Music Percussion Ensemble/Ian Wright
String Quartet No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 30 (1979) [25:30]
McCapra String Quartet (Fiona McCapra and Stephen Hussey (violins), Anai Ullmann (viola), Ben Chappell (cello))
Sonata Magna for Organ Op. 56 (1983) [21:58]
Jeremy Wallbank (organ, Cologne Cathedral)
Two Shakespeare Songs from ‘Music to Hear’ Op. 40 (1980) (Full fathom five; Tell me where is fancy bred?) [3:40]
Yvonne Fuller (soprano), Robert Matthew-Walker (piano)
rec. various locations, April 2015 (Violin Sonata); 1981-87 (remainder)
first recordings
GUILD GMCD7423 [79:44]

Robert Matthew-Walker's activities have ranged far and wide. He is by no means a figure exclusive to the classical music world. He studied at Goldsmith's College, University of London, the London College of Music and with Darius Milhaud (1962-63). Matthew-Walker's worklist is not inconsiderable: six symphonies (1956-68) of which only no. 1 is not in one movement, Symphonic Variations for orchestra (1955), A Distant Summer – Rhapsody for orchestra, concertos for horn, oboe and cello (2), various piano sonatas and four string quartets. Amongst his solo piano works is Martin Jones – His Toye (1989). His other works include Days To Remember: Three Pieces for Rock Band (1966) and a Meditation on the Death of Elvis Presley (1980). Op. 44. The Departure of The Queen of Sheba (1981) might well reflect an inventive sense of humour.

His books have included studies of Elvis Presley, Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie and Madonna alongside Robert Simpson, Alun Hoddinott, Havergal Brian, Vyacheslav Artyomov and Mahler's Das Lied Von Der Erde. He edited Eugene Goossens' Cincinnati Interludes and is the author of Broadway to Hollywood: the Musical and the Cinema.

After years in the Army he joined CBS in 1970 rising through its hierarchy and becoming Director of Masterworks Marketing, Europe in Paris. In 1975 he moved to RCA as Head of Classical where he signed up James Galway. He was editor of Cis Amaral's distinguished Music and Musicians but his music criticism informed many magazines and journals including the late-lamented International Record Review.

I was pleased to hear Matthew-Walker's Fantasy-Sonata: Hamlet (Piano Sonata No.3) Op.34 at last year's British Piano Festival in the Birmingham Conservatoire. Mark Bebbington played this major piano sonata. The Shakespearean subject-matter suggests Liszt (or perhaps Searle) and the Fantasy-Sonata Scriabin or Medtner. Then you are reminded that it was written in 1980 for the Buxton Festival. In fact it turned out for much of its 18-minute duration to be quite tough. Written in the same year as his Meditation on the Death of Elvis Presley it has its beatific moments towards the end but otherwise seemed suitably freighted with dark portents. It reminded me from time to time of the Shostakovich Prelude and Fugues, yet with more modernistic, collage-like and less ingratiating tendencies. That said, it ends very movingly indeed. I'd certainly like to hear it again.

Back to the present disc which serves as a strong calling-card for the composer. My only quibble would be that we could have done with something of the composer's orchestral creativity.

The Violin Sonata No. 2 is heard in what is clearly an extraordinary performance. Its exuberance is shared between the two instruments which stake out a skein of moods from a capricious "Lark Ascendant" to an ending in gambolling happiness. The audience applause is included. The idiom will test no-one's patience.

The Sinfonia Solemnis reflects the composer's interest in percussion. The notes tell us that seven percussionists are specified for his Symphony No. 4 and that he enjoys Loris Tjeknavorian's Requiem for the Massacred. This work presents a wide palette of timbres and intricacy with some of it reminiscent of the sort of arcane mystery of Hovhaness's orchestral scores. This aspect is underscored by deep impacts and chimes, xylophone flights of fancy and the sort of 'ice palace' awe found in the Eastern scores of Henry Cowell. Its last movement is the longest and most articulate and engaging. The work is dedicated to Alun Hoddinott.

The String Quartet No. 1 is dedicated to Edmund Rubbra. Matthew-Walker wrote it while commuting by train. There's no obvious sentimentality in this writing which feels unyielding and intense. The abrasive second movement has the bustle of Bliss's Conversations while its successor is thoughtful if not joyous. The finale glows, even dazzles. The highly skilled McCapra made the first recording of Malcolm Arnold's two string quartets back in 1992 (Chandos CHAN9112).

The Sonata Magna is in a single movement and is recorded in an imposing cathedral acoustic. At times its slow evolutionary progressed recalled (strangely enough) a bubbling lava-lamp. Touching on the Dies Irae (14:00) it attains a certain nobility before a crashing pell-mell descent that reminded me of Messiaen and of Williamson in his Organ Symphony.
 
The two short Shakespeare songs are with the composer as accompanist. Yvonne Fuller's assured enunciation keeps the words to the fore and her musicality gives the songs their best chance. They stand in the English lyric tradition: somewhat sing-song but enlivened by the piano's icy stoniness and tinkling rush.

This is one of those discs the very miscellaneous nature of which might call to mind the American CRI composer profile anthology CDs. It's a distinguished entry speaking for all but Matthew-Walker's orchestral works. I hope that we will get to hear his symphonies and concertos.
 
Rob Barnett

 

 




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