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David MATTHEWS (born 1943)
In the Dark Time
Op.38 (19845)
Chaconne Op.43 (1986/7)
BBC Symphony Orchestra; Jac van Steen
Recorded : BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale, London, May 1998
NMC D 067 [47:28]

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Up to now David Matthews' music has been reasonably well served by recording companies although some of his major works, particularly his large-scale choral-orchestral Vespers Op.66 (1993/4), have still to be recorded. Matthews' moderately modern, though unquestionably contemporary, idiom has been concentrated on "moribund" musical forms such as symphonies (five at the time of writing), string quartets, concertos and tone-poems as the two pieces recorded here.

For In the Dark Time Op.38, written in 1984/5, is exactly that, a tone-poem evoking moods, nature and the passing of time, though the music is never programmatic. This substantial piece was written as a sequel to Matthews' earlier September Music Op.24 (1979) and both pieces are actually based on the same chord, though developed in a quite different way. In the Dark Time falls into eight varied, contrasted sections but the whole leaves the impression of a tightly argued abstract work of some substance, cast in a modern, though very accessible idiom. The appeal of this beautiful work is high indeed and one hopes that this well recorded and well played performance will earn it and its composer many new friends.

The same may apply to Chaconne Op.43 (1986/7), yet another tone-poem in all but the name. Though he admits that there is a "broad connection with the English landscape", the composer insists on the fact that the music is NOT pictorial. Hence, probably, the rather generic, nondescript title which seems to emphasize the formal structure of the piece which actually develops two chaconnes. But, again, David Matthews has one forgetting the tightly wrought technicalities of the piece and one has just to enjoy the music and be impressed by its communicative power.

Both pieces are superb examples of Matthews' consummate craftsmanship and deeply anchored musicianship. They were both new to me but I could not but be impressed by them. Both works get very fine, well recorded readings. I now sincerely hope that more of Matthews' music will soon be recorded, with a priority for his Vespers. My only regret here is the comparatively short playing time of the release that could have included another major orchestral work such as The Music of Dawn Op.50 or A Vision and a Journey Op.60.

Hubert CULOT

See also reviews by Gary Higginson and Peter Grahame Woolf


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