Friday 19 April 2013

David Matthews’ Piano Concerto and Piano Sonata from Toccata Classics brilliantly played by Laura Mikkola

David Matthews (b.1943)  was born in London but it wasn’t until 1959 that a recording that he heard of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, sparked a desire to compose, leading to a symphony of his own. It was not until he was twenty five that he produced a work that satisfied him sufficiently to be his Op.1, his Three Orchestral Songs (1968-1971). He read classics at Nottingham University and later studied composition with Anthony Milner. Matthews was also helped by the advice and encouragement of Nicholas Maw . For three years he worked as an assistant to Benjamin Britten at . He has largely avoided teaching, but has done much editorial work and orchestration of film music.

David Matthews, along with his composer brother Colin, collaborated with Deryck Cooke on orchestrating the final version of his 'performing version' of Mahler's Tenth Symphony. Matthews has also written articles and reviews for various music journals as well as books on Britten and Tippett, a composer he very much admires. To date Matthews’ output includes seven symphonies, a number of concertos including two for violin and one for piano, numerous orchestral works, chamber works including twelve string quartets, three piano trios, two string trios and piano music. Dutton Vocalion has recorded five of the symphonies on two CDs with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Martyn Brabbins and Jac van Steen.

Toccata Classics  have also recorded two volumes of Matthews’ String Quartets,
as well as a new disc featuring his Piano Concerto , Op.111, Piano Sonata, Op.47, Variations for Piano, Op.72, together with two other shorter piano works.


TOCC 0166

David Matthews’ Piano Concerto Op.111 (2009) opens with a slightly bluesy theme, marked Con moto moderato, that is developed by the piano with a shifting orchestral background. It immediately captures the attention and keeps it. There is a terrific central, spiky theme and a lovely atmospheric coda. The second movement marked Tango: Tempo di tango energico is a wonderfully effective fast and flowing piece, with the piano more obviously taking the tango rhythm with some wonderful playing from Laura Mikkola. A nocturnal sounding Elegy: Largo e mesto is a wonderful creation, full of elusive atmosphere with, at times, a pretty taxing part for the pianist.

The Allegro con spirito opens with string chords before the piano settles to a gentle melody leading to a livelier section before upward phrases suddenly end the work.

I love this concerto. Laura Mikkola and the Orchestra Nova under George Vass couldn’t be better.

A hesitant rhythm opens the Piano Sonata Op.47 (1989) before the piano suddenly bursts out in this Allegro molto e ritmico. There is a return to the opening motif which is expanded. There are some great dissonances and piano chords as this movement progresses before building to a stormy climax then quietening as it flows straight into the lovely slow second movement Andante, a movement that sounds somewhat improvisatory. Laura Mikkola provides some beautifully limpid playing before the jazzy Allegro that has some terrific clipped piano phrases. The short clipped phrases continue but the music soon builds to a longer breathed and complex climax. There is stunning playing from Mikkola. A series of chords, becoming slowly quieter, end the work.

Variations for Piano, op.72 (1997) is a theme and twenty four Variations based on a short melody, three chords and a descending motif rounded off by a rising one. Matthews draws such a variety of ideas from this little theme. Particularly attractive are the Vivace e leggiero that has a lovely flowing mood, a Con molto anima where the music fairly tumbles over itself, the Slow blues, a masterclass in variation writing that is followed by a scintillating Allegretto con precision, a lovely, lazy blues theme and a gentle Andantino semplice to conclude, all brilliantly played by Laura Mikkola.

Two Dionysis Dithyrambs Op.94 (2007 and 2004) take their title from Nietzsche’s Dionysos-Dithyramben. No.1 is inspired by ‘Die Sonne Sinkt’ (The Sun Sinks) from his third Dionysos-Dithyramb that reflects on the sea and sky. Marked With steady, calm movement this is a beautifully flowing piece with some lovely flourishes. No.2 marked Esultante, reflects on Nietzsche’s final days as he descended into madness. This is another terrific piece, with powerful dissonances, full of ardour, making a perfect companion to the first. A virtuoso piece with more, great playing from Laura Mikkola.

The final piece, One to Tango Op.51d (1990 arr. 1993), is an arrangement of the fourth movement of Matthews’ Fourth Symphony. Its offbeat rhythms make an effective solo piano piece to end.

The recording made in the Pamoja Hall at Sevenoaks School, Kent, England is excellent as are the notes by the composer. This is a fine new release that should be heard by all and not just those that are interested in British music.

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