Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

David MATTHEWS (b.1943)
In The Dark Time Op.38 (1984-5)
Chaconne Op.43 (1986-7)
BBCSO/Jac Van Steen
NMC DO67 [47:28]

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It has been some time since I last reviewed a disc of David Matthews' music. This is mainly because his works only appear slowly and with very little fanfare. His Cantiga Op.45, a Proms commission from 1988, recorded by Unicorn-Kanchana, is no longer available. His 4th symphony was a Virgin Classics single and some of his chamber works are to be found on the small label Metronome. NMC have released some of his piano works [DO21S]. I am not sure if his marvellous Piano Trio Op34 recorded on the Kingdom label is available any longer.

This issue is particularly welcome and marvellously performed and recorded. Matthews is a traditionalist; he works in his own passionate and individual way within an accepted medium. I do not wish to imply that he is easy or undemanding. He is often intensely chromatic but with a key-centre and sometimes a recognisable tonality. His orchestration is rich, powerful and entirely successful; not surprising for a man who helped Deryck Cooke on the final performing version of Mahler's 10th Symphony. He also played a major part in the orchestration of Paul McCartney's Standing Stone.

I first heard In the Dark Time in 1988 on the radio, a recording I have kept and played. It is impressively tense and emotional but with brightness towards the end. The composer says that it was conceived as "October to March music" and therefore has a particular shape. He tried to "keep up with [the] appropriate season" as he wrote it. The title comes from T.S. Eliot's 'Little Gidding' beginning "Midwinter Spring is its own season." A line most pertinent to me as I heard this new recording first on a cold fresh day in late February.

Chaconne is a 'compositional tour-de-force'. Again the composer admits to inspiration from the landscape but "the music is not pictorial". In fact the composer talks of a medieval landscape such as Towton where "26,000 men were slaughtered in the Wars of the Roses, but which is now at peace".

Reading through the notes the composer talks of D major, or 'the pedal note F', 'long melodic passages' and a 'horn melody'.

Anyone who can appreciate music of warmth, power and communication will enjoy this CD. My wife, a non-musician, heard it and thought it 'wonderful'. Not only that. NMC is an enterprising label on behalf of British music and we should if possible support them.

Gary Higginson

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