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David MATTHEWS (b. 1943)
Music for Solo Violin - Volume 2
Fantasia on Paganini’s Second Violin Concerto, Op. 147, No. 1 (2007) [7:42]
Three Chants, Op. 138 (1997/2009) [6:11]
Four Australian Birds, Op. 84a (2000-4) [10:56]
Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 8 (1974–75) [12:25]
The National Anthem (2007) [0:56]
Song Thrush Fragment (2004) [0:25]
Birthday Piece for Richard (2012) [0:28]
An Album Leaf for Sally (2009) [2:12]
Not Farewell (2003) [1:40]
Fifteen Preludes for solo violin, Op. 132 (2007-14) [26:40]
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin)
rec. 2015/16, Aldbury Parish Church, Hertfordshire, UK
TOCCATA TOCC0309 [69:40]

The second volume in this series (see volume 1 reviewed at the end of 2013), once again played by one of David Matthews’s great champions, Peter Sheppard Skærved, ranges widely in both geographical inspiration and date of composition. All ten pieces are heard in premiere recordings.

The Fantasia on Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.2 followed a request from the violinist for a cadenza to the first movement and the latter was duly incorporated into the former. The virtuosic demands of the writing are met with sang froid, and Matthews manages to embody the Paganinian ethos whilst retaining his own musical identity, a compositional balancing act that takes some doing. Very different is Three Chants, much revised pieces that incorporate an element of humming along as the soloist plays. Whether one considers this kind of vocalising risible or irresistible depends on one’s temperament, perhaps, but there is without question a haunting, almost meditative element at work here and one that I happen to find compelling.

Those who know Matthews’ Tenth String Quartet (Toccata TOCC 0058 – see review) will recognise Munro’s Song from Four Australian Birds, which forms the opening movement of the Quartet. The delightful exploration of the sounds of the Australian magpies and cuckoo, the Koel, are joined by the exotic sounding Eastern Whipbird and Pied Butcherbird. In a deft touch, there are postage stamp-size photographs of all four birds in the booklet – a bit blurry and in black and white but certainly better than nothing. The Solo Sonata of the mid-1970s began life as a Sonatina conceived for the Adolf Busch pupil Joseph Segal and has, at its heart, an expressive Lento that flourishes after the earlier resinous quality of its Scherzo. There are small pieces, including suggestive character studies and a boldly conceived National Anthem.

The largest undertaking, though, is the sequence of fifteen Preludes, Op.132 composed between 2007 and 2014. There are plenty of avenues to pleasurable listening here, from the fiery and energetic C minor, through the alphorn evocations of the D major, the quietude of the A minor, the singing warmth of the F major and the alternately resinous and lyric B minor, the penultimate Prelude that pays homage to the Tui bird.

Toccata has shown sterling commitment to Matthews’ productive oeuvre. It is no coincidence that the music is fully worthy of such staunch promotion.

Jonathan Woolf



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