Thursday 16 June 2016

Three large-scale works to celebrate Colin Matthews' 70th birthday

Colin Matthews - Violin Concerto - NMC Recordings
Colin Matthews Cortege, Violin Concerto, Cello Concerto; Leila Josefowicz, Anssi Karttunen, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Oliver Knussen, Riccardo Chailly, Rumon Gamba; NMC Recordings
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 15 2016
Star rating: 5.0

Essential listening: three large scale work from Colin Matthews who recently celebrated his 70th birthday

This terrific disc on NMC Recordings helps celebrate Colin Matthews' 70th birthday with recordings of music written between 1988 and 2009. There is a live recording of Matthews' Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz (violin) and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Oliver Knussen, recorded at the 2010 BBC Proms. Riccardo Chailly and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform Cortege, and Anssi Karttunen (cello) and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conductor Rumon Gamba, perform Cello Concerto No. 2.

Matthews has been at the centre of UK musical life, not just through his composition but in his founding of NMC Recordings, his role as executive administrator of the Holst Foundation and musical director of the Britten-Pears Foundation, not to mention his assisting Deryck Cooke in his performing version of Mahler's Tenth Symphony.

Colin Matthews
Colin Matthews
The Violin Concerto is the most recent work on the disc, written between 2007 and 2009 for Leila Josefowicz. It is in two movements, each around 10 minutes long. The first starts with high violin arabesques, and aetherial textures, before developing a more dramatic edge. It is very much a violin showcase, with the orchestra providing a darker textured support. Though abstract, you get a strong sense of narrative, the violin's singing line contrasting with the harmonic complexity. An atmospheric transition with long sustained horn notes, leads to the second movement. Here there is a sense of building tensions and more of a feeling of interaction between violin and orchestra. This reaches a terrific climax with rhythmic drama in the orchestra, and real vibrant edge to the violin part. The performance is superb, with the live recording giving it real vividness.

Cortege was written in 1988 and first performed by Bernard Haitink and the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It is a single, large-scale slow movement and whilst not specifically a funeral march is very much a dark hued work. It opens with a terrifically atmospheric sequence for brass and drums. The music develops in one long sustained span, with an underlying sense of struggle. There are climaxes, and the opening material returns, with a sense of progression in the drama leading via an austerely spare section to the final huge chords, each surrounded by a sense of space. Again there is no narrative but one seems implicit. The studio recording brings out the huge array of dark colours in Matthews' writing, and real showcases the orchestra.

The final work on the disc is Matthews' Cello Concerto No. 2, which was written between 1994 and 1996 for Mstislav Rostropovich and premiered by him with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis. From the outset the solo part was intended to be spot-lit and to showcase the talents of Rostropovich. Here Anssi Karttunen steps up to the mark with a vibrant performance. The opening movement Declamation is intense and sustained, with the cello soloist declaiming against an orchestral backdrop. The second movement, Song without text starts rather mysteriously with the cello rather intense and dramatic in its song rather than lyrical. The third, middle movement, is the only fast one; marked Scherzo. Allegro energico it is vigorous and dramatic with a sense of dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Pounding rhythms lead to the fourth movement, another Song without text which is austere and intense, forming something of a cadenza-like pause in the structure. The final movement, Resolution, is full of gorgeous textures, with a sense of contrast coming between these and the dramatic moments, between vigour and stasis.

Whilst it would be nice to hear Rostropovich playing the work, Karttunen makes a fine soloist with a real sense of ownership of the taxing cello part and little sense of strain from either soloist or orchestra. All the recordings on this disc have that sense of confidence, and bravura challenge. This is a fine birthday present and is essential listening.

Colin Matthews (born 1946) - Violin Concerto (2007/2009) [20:00]
Colin Matthews - Cortege (1988) [18:35]
Colin Matthews - Cello Concerto No. 2 (1994/1996) [26.40]
Leila Josefowicz (violin)
Anssi Karttunen (cello)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Oliver Knussen (conductor)
Riccardo Chailly (conductor)
Rumon Gamba (conductor)
Recorded: live at BBC Proms July 2010 (Violin Concerto); 19 December 1998 at the Concertgebouw (Cortege); 23-24 April 2002 at Maida Vale Studios (Cello Concerto)
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