Two impressive recent half-hour Symphonies from London-born (in 1964) Matthew Taylor. The Fourth (2015-16, for large orchestra), in memoriam John McCabe and dedicated to his widow Monica, has three movements played without a break. It opens brightly shining and pulsating, a surge of energy that subsides to beguiling expression and detailing that between them recall Michael Tippett’s Second Symphony and progresses through mighty developments and intensities to a deeply eloquent Adagio teneramente, which is then countered by a ‘Finale buffa’ marked Allegro giocoso, perky music athletic in its drive that reaches brassy jubilation.
Written for the Kensington Symphony Orchestra and Russell Keable, Taylor 4 is a compelling listen and invites return visits. So too his Fifth (for the English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods, and scored similarly to Beethoven’s Fifth, a work at the heart of Taylor’s musical discoveries, when aged only five), a four-movement affair with an arresting opener, so involving that I wish it were longer, anguished music that hits the emotional spot in its turbulence, if with consolatory asides, surreptitiously building to a thrilling climax and coda with searing trumpets and hard-hitting timpani. The remaining three movements are each headed “Tribute” – respectively to Cy Lloyd, Angela Simpson (Robert Simpson’s widow) and Brigid Taylor (Taylor’s mother), all now deceased. The first two are intermezzo-like and expressive, the first fleeting and poignant, the second ethereal and mysterious. The Finale is the longest movement, a twelve-minute Adagio, spare and burdened, if from the heart, and perhaps an emotional exorcism on Taylor’s part as the grief quotient (and the decibels, timpani spotlighted once more) increases, although, to my ears, the close (given to trombones) is anything but a laying to rest…
In between the Symphonies is Romanza for Strings (the second movement of Taylor’s String Quartet No.6 – in that original form a gift for his wife on their wedding day). It’s a slow-burn passionate yet private piece, intense and reflective, secrets not easily given up, and one wants to discover them, so this recording is invaluable.
Woods and the ESO have documented a riveting reading of Symphony 5, and Woods – this time with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales – ensures similar excellence in Symphony 4 and the Romanza; good sound, too, whether in Cardiff or in London. Plenty of helpful reading in the booklet – contributors include the composer and the conductor – to complete this very distinguished and rewarding release on Nimbus Alliance NI6406.