Wednesday 3 July 2013

Matthew Taylor’s terrific Second Symphony is coupled with his fine Viola Concerto in highly recommendable performances on a new release from Toccata Classics

A British composer that I have only just discovered is Matthew Taylor. I had known his name since hearing his Hyperion recording of Robert Simpson’s Symphony No.11 coupled with Variations on a Theme by Nielsen when he conducted the City of London Sinfonia. The Eleventh Symphony was dedicated to Matthew Taylor with the following note from Simpson ‘After hearing Matthew Taylor conduct a superbly penetrating performance of my Symphony No.7 with an orchestra mainly consisting of students, I felt an immediate compulsion to compose a symphony for him…’

Matthew Taylor was born in London in 1964. He attended the Junior Royal Academy of Music, studied composition with Robin Holloway at Queens' College, Cambridge University and later at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and at the Royal Academy of Music, London.  Taylor furthered his composition studies with Robert Simpson and David Matthews. As a conductor he trained with Vilem Tausky and with Leonard Bernstein at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik festival.

Taylor has appeared as Guest Conductor with the English Chamber Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, Royal Ballet Sinfonia, European Community Chamber Orchestra and St Petersburg State Academic Orchestra and has conducted the first performance of pieces by Robert Simpson, Vagn Holmboe, David Matthews and James Francis Brown.

He has been Artistic Director of the Malvern Festival, Composer in Residence at the Blackheath Halls, Associate Composer of Ensemble Sound Collective, Artistic Director of the Royal Tunbridge Wells International Music Festival and Artistic Director of the St Petersburg British Music Festival. Taylor was a lecturer in composition at the Royal Academy of Music and currently teaches composition at the Junior Academy.

Matthew Taylor’s works include orchestral works, three symphonies, concertos, chamber works including seven string quartets, songs and works for piano.

It is his Symphony No.2, Op.10 and Viola Concerto, Op.41 that have been recorded by Garry Walker and the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) for Toccata Classics

TOCC 0175
Taylor’s Viola Concerto, Humoreskes, Op.41 (2010) was commissioned to mark the birth of the composer’s younger daughter and was first performed by Sinfonia Tamesa at St. Johns, Waterloo, London in July 2011 with Sarah-Jane Bradley as soloist. The title reflects Taylor’s admiration of Sibelius’ works of the same name.

The Andante comodo opens on a long held note for oboe to which the viola joins, weaving around the held note as more woodwind join in. Eventually the full orchestra joins as the theme is developed. The music rises to a climax before a quiet section with pizzicato from the viola. There is a sparkling little presto (scherzo) full of energy with some terrific textures and sonorities both from the viola and orchestra.
The longest movement and heart of this concerto is the Larghetto which opens with a lovely melody with intervals that suggest a serial basis for the music. There is some rich, sonorous playing from Sarah-Jane Bradley and a lovely part for woodwind and brass as the viola weaves its beautiful way forward. Later there is a hushed section with the soloist picking out her theme, with pizzicato notes adding a mysterious touch as the orchestra leads to a hushed coda.

The viola opens alone in the Molto adagio, a cadenza like movement with some beautiful playing from Sarah-Jane Bradley with double stopping and rich sonorities.  Quietly and gently, the orchestra enters alone and quite passionately with a full string sound. The orchestra quietens as the viola enters in a beautiful motif that slowly subsides as the woodwind of the orchestra enter before the solo violist returns, drawing this movement straight into the Finale.

Timpani and full orchestra with agitated strings and brass open the Finale: Allegro riotoso. The music calms as the viola enters and sets itself against sections of the orchestra with timpani having a say. Again the music quietens as the viola has a little dialogue with individual woodwind instruments. Eventually the full orchestra returns with timpani, joined by viola to lead to an energetic coda brilliantly played by Sarah-Jane Bradley.

Matthew Taylor’s Symphony No.2, Op.10 (1991, rev. 1997 and 2008) has much of the energy and changeability of Robert Simpson’s music yet has an individuality all of its own. It was commissioned by the eminent gynaecologist, Professor Ian Craft who suggested the unusual idea of a large scale orchestral work reflecting aspects of human birth.

The Moderato e maestoso is at times serious, playful and, in the opening, dramatic as the orchestra bursts forth with shimmering strings. Soon the music calms and quietens, ruminating with the basses before a tense yet steady melody emerges, slowly rising to a more passionate string sound overlaid by the rest of the orchestra. The music rises to a number of small climaxes before quietening to a gentle, slightly unworldly feel. The music speeds up, with interjections from various sections of the orchestra and, as it develops, there are horns, cymbal crashes, xylophone and brass all having a say as the music rises to a tremendous climax. There are scurrying string sounds, somewhat reminiscent of Michael Tippett before the music quietens, then rising, before quietening yet again as the music mysteriously moves to its conclusion.

The Vivacissimo – poco e poco stringendo – Presto opens with a rumbling piano and orchestra before odd brass and woodwind tunes appear in this changeable music, with short lived motifs scurrying around various parts of the orchestra. A series of slowly rising motifs, with interjections, leads the orchestra to a quieter section for playful woodwind. As the strings dance around, the piano makes another appearance before the music tries to reach a climax halfway through but subsides. At times there are some stunning orchestral textures. A brief climax is eventually reached before the music fades to the depths of the orchestra. It soon rises again with frantic strings and full orchestra but again drops to end suddenly on chirping woodwind.

A pensive Lento sereno opens on strings with an upward rising theme before gentle woodwind playing over lower strings lead the way forward with some lovely textures and sonorities. An oboe, clarinet, cor anglais and bassoon take turns at weaving a theme before the piano makes a number of brief entries as strings and wood wind lead the way forward. The strings then take over as the music gently, yet purposefully, moves ahead. There is a quiet section for woodwind and celeste. Such exquisite moments are beautifully conceived. A lovely woodwind phrase with timpani leads to a restatement of the opening theme as the movement closes gently.

In the Allegro fluente, woodwind open with xylophone before other sections of the orchestra join, dancing around in this lively music which rises to agitated strings as the music accelerates. Various percussion instruments join in then whooping brass as the music rushes ahead. Eventually the music drops to a quiet section where the woodwind weave around before rising slowly with various sections of orchestra, especially the brass, lead to increasing tension as the music moves towards the coda or, in this work, the birth, signalled by a flurry of woodwind and a sudden orchestral end.

What stands out in this terrific symphony is Taylor’s use of the orchestra. There is that unstoppable energy that is reminiscent of Robert Simpson but the exquisitely beautiful moments, delicately conceived show Taylor’s inventiveness and ear for subtle colours and sonorities.

Garry Walker and the BBC Symphony Orchestra are on great form in these works.

With an excellent recording from BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale, London and informative booklet notes by Giles Easterbrook and the composer, I cannot recommend this new disc highly enough.  I will be seeking out more works by this fine composer.


  1. Professor Ian Craft is a creepy old fuck

  2. Professor Ian Craft = scum