Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trio. String Quartet No. 3.
Conflict and Consolation
Lowbury Pn Tr; Schidlof Qrt; Martyn Brabbins, cond; BBC SO Members
TOCCATA 0015 (65:14)
Matthew Taylor may be familiar to you as a conductor. His friend and mentor, Robert Simpson, composed a symphony (No. 11) for Taylor to conduct, after hearing an impressive performance of his Seventh symphony led by the younger man. Taylor’s impressive recording of Simpson’s 11th and
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appeared in 2004 on the Hyperion label. At the time, Martin Anderson interviewed Taylor for
(28:2) and they spoke, in part, about Taylor’s music. Taylor admitted that Simpson was a formidable influence on his own work—and, by extension, Simpson’s twin gods of Beethoven and Nielsen. He also mentioned Michael Tippett as a favorite. Now, thanks to Anderson’s CD label Toccata Classics, we have three substantial offerings of Taylor’s music to evaluate for ourselves.
What Taylor’s compositional style has in common with the above names is a sense of organic propulsion. This is music which is constantly working itself out, always with a perceived goal in view; though I hasten to add, the journey is as important as the outcome. While there may be great dynamic contrasts, Taylor’s music does not fall into distinct sections; rather new episodes grow out of the preceding material. This even holds true for the second movement of the Piano Trio, a theme and variations: the variations succeed each other organically.
Naturally, as Simpson’s progeny, counterpoint is essential for Taylor. Much of the lengthy Piano Trio, op. 17 (1993–94), is built on a falling, two-note motif. This thematic cell does not always utilize the same interval: at the trio’s powerful opening, it is a wide leap, whereas in the third movement the motif is most often a falling third. Nevertheless, this figure provides a solid basis for the musical activity going on around it, whether stringent counterpoint or colorful decoration. There is plenty of the latter: twittering high piano in the Trio (or, indeed, busy trumpet flourishes in the first movement of
Conflict and Consolation
), recalling the muscularity of Tippett’s instrumental writing. At the Trio’s quiet close, the two-note motif assumes a rocking motion, with both stringed instruments playing harmonics against the widely spread extremes of the piano. Britten’s night music is strongly evoked, particularly his string-writing in the
, but for all that, there is nothing second-hand about Taylor’s music: however clear his influences, his intellectual rigor ensures that each work has a distinctive life of its own.
A feeling of linear discovery similarly permeates the String Quartet No. 3, although this work is more prone to break down into basics to reassess itself; witness the deconstructive final bars of the second movement, faltering to a halt before the vigorous onslaught of the finale flings us back into the musical stream. Taylor’s quartet-writing is assured. His rhythmic attack, along with a reliance on small thematic cells, places him in the same world as Shostakovich and, again, the string textures often recall Britten.
The strength of Taylor’s musical argument never relaxes, whether the music is loud or soft, energetic or contemplative, and this trait again connects the composer with his mentor. It is no surprise that the “consoling” conclusion of
Conflict and Consolation
retains a toughness, not settling for any easy concordance or unearned simplicity. This bracing work opens with pummelling timpani and full-bore symphonic brass-writing that suggests Hindemith as much as Tippett. “Conflict” it may be, but it is conflict strictly laid out and controlled. The journey of this two-movement work seems to me a progress from public pronouncement to private intimacy. The beginning of the second part, which finds the brass orchestra muted, constitutes a turning point, both texturally and in terms of the work’s emotional temperature.
In all his music, but most obviously in this piece, Taylor shows a conductor’s practical understanding of timbral blending. Subtle use, for example, is made of tuned percussion over the long brass lines in the second movement. The musicians of the BBC SO play stunningly under Brabbins; the performers of the chamber works are equally committed.
These excellent, clearly professional recordings were made over a decade ago. Why such first-class performances of such vital music never made it to commercial release is something of a mystery. No matter: we have them now, courtesy of Toccata, and I believe Taylor’s Third Symphony and Horn Concerto will comprise an upcoming release from Dutton. That should be well worth sampling. On the basis of the three works here, Taylor’s music seems to possess the rare ability to offer fresh rewards and reveal new discoveries at each hearing. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Piano Trio, Op 17 by Matthew Taylor
Lowbury Piano Trio Choir
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