Four impressive orchestral works from the pen of Englishman David Matthews (born 1943).
In order of disc appearance, the ten-minute Toward Sunrise (Opus 117) is atmospheric and suspenseful, a myriad of details and colours complementing the melodious and sonic allure as the music heads toward a tumultuous conclusion.
The half-hour, roughly-equal-length three-movement Symphony No.8 (Opus 131), first-conducted by HK Gruber, is arresting from the off, an expressive Andante leading to a bracing Allegro energico, music of direction, import and sweeping romanticism – quite filmic and dazzlingly scored – before subsiding to reflection, passion spent. The heart of this Symphony is the central movement, marked Adagio con molto sentimento, darkly eloquent and somewhat chilling when a grief-stricken climax is reached, horns ablaze, clarinets trilling wildly. After such emotional force, the Allegretto giocoso Finale brings light relief, a ballerina of a movement, pirouetting here, scampering there, orchestrated with clarity, and ending with the simplest and wittiest of gestures.
From a substantial Symphony to a short one, Sinfonia (Opus 67; 1995/2015), cast as an Andante introduction and Allegro. In its substantially revised version, Sinfonia is a concise work of protean invention, forming bit by bit into an athletic Allegro fuelled by timpani and exuding Tippett-like string-writing … also unease and sternness. Sinfonia may only last eight minutes but it has much to say.
Finally, A Vision of the Sea, Matthews’s Opus 125, which, to my mind, for all its picturesque touches, is a (twenty-minute, one-movement) Symphony in all but name, music with strong ideas that is always going places, and arriving, while also beguiling in terms of timbre, elemental at times, and with the capacity to paint pictures; an oceanic Sibelius 7, maybe.
With excellent presentation and sound – Mike George producing, Stephen Rinker engineering – these finely-honed and dedicated performances by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Jac van Steen (recorded November & December 2017 at BBC MediaCityUK in Salford), with the composer in attendance, have about them the feeling of rightness and complete a release that is superb in every respect. I am therefore delighted for Signum SIGCD647 (due for release on January 22) to be the inaugural entry in the Column’s new Outstanding category.
Postscript: I don’t intend to be retrospective with the Outstanding award, but at least I recently looked-back to some of last year’s releases that took my fancy…