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Matthews: Symphonies No 1, 3 & 5 / Martyn Brabbins, Bbc National Orchestra Of Wales

Release Date: 04/14/2009 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 7222   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  David Matthews
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

D. MATTHEWS Symphonies: No. 1; No. 3; No. 5 Martyn Brabbins, cond; BBC Natl O of Wales DUTTON 7222 (66:33)

For a long time now, David Matthews’s music has sat in the shadow of that of his brother, Colin Matthews. David’s music is more approachable than his brother’s is, less overtly avant-garde. Thanks to funding by the RWV Trust and BBC Radio 3, the enterprising label Dutton has been able to issue these world premiere recordings of three of his symphonies. David was born in London in 1943. He studied Read more composition with Anthony Milner and studied classics at the University of Nottingham (where he is now an honorary doctor of music). In the 1960s, he was an assistant to Britten at Aldeburgh. Outside of composition, Matthews is probably best known for his hand in the performing version of Mahler’s 10th Symphony, which he prepared with Deryck Cooke.

When Matthews heard Beethoven’s Ninth for the first time at age 16, he decided to write a symphony of his own. Needless to say, that essay was not the Symphony No. 1 we hear here; neither was his next, heavily Mahler-influenced, attempt. The movement archetypes associated with the symphony form have been fertile ground for Matthews (who sometimes, as in the case of his First Symphony proper, amalgamates them into one overall movement in the manner of Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony).

This recording is of the 1978 revision of the 1975 First Symphony, a revision that brought with it the opening harp solo (replacing a full orchestra introduction), plus extensive cuts and rewrites. A chorale introduces the motivic backbone of the piece (an outlined minor triad followed by a rising fifth). A set of variations on this chorale is interrupted twice by a pre-echo of the Scherzo. The final section is another set of variations, slow this time, with bracketed flashbacks to the Scherzo. The performance is expert and of the first order. Martyn Brabbins is a fine conductor, enthusiastic in everything he does, and he brings this characteristic enthusiasm to the present performance. The active Scherzo sections are magnificently played and exude much energy, while repeated listenings confirm the impression that the sense of inevitability about it all comes from a sound structural grasp. Matthews’s scoring can be hugely colorful, an impression underlined by the superb recording by Michael Ponder, producer, and Dexter Newman, engineer.

The Third Symphony was completed in April 1985 after a two-year gestation period. The premiere was given by the Hallé under Bryden Thomson. Again, this Symphony is cast in a single movement, although it was originally planned as bipartite. The work opens with an extended slow section that seems to be influenced by Mahler. The music of the introduction finally reaches its fullest form as a long, plaintive oboe solo in the coda, a transcription of Matthews’s song, Spell of Sleep . The musical argument throughout is tersely expressed, the contrasts finely judged. It is that valedictory coda that remains, though, haunting the memory long after the music has stopped.

The Fifth Symphony was written in 1998 and premiered at the 1999 Proms. Shortly thereafter, Matthews expanded the instrumentation slightly, adding a couple of horns and a trombone, and it is this version that is presented here. As a piece of trivia, the Symphony was written while Matthews was resident at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, and was actually penned in the same hut in which Copland wrote Billy the Kid in 1938. Once more, the original plan of two movements was abandoned and, this time, replaced by the traditional four movements. The opening Allegro energico is shaped as statement/expanded counter-statement/coda, along the lines of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony first movement, according to Matthews; the music, of course, sounds nothing like Bruckner. The score is busy and active. The performance here is full of assurance. The Scherzo counterbalances the brightness of the first movement by projecting darker energies. This is a Scherzo that bites, with brass accents assailing the listener from all angles. The elegiac slow movement is most impressive in its emotional breadth, its tone stunningly well prolonged by Brabbins and his forces. Some of the gestures are decidedly Romantic in nature. The finale seems remarkably jaunty. It is based on a piano duet that Matthews and his wife Jean wrote for the 70th birthday of Peter Sculthorpe (Matthews wrote the top line, his wife the lower). For the Symphony, Matthews took the first few bars and let them develop into new directions.

Congratulations are due to all concerned for this immensely worthwhile project.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1, Op. 9 by David Matthews
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Length: 19 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: England (1975 - 1978). 
Symphony no 3, Op. 37 by David Matthews
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Length: 22 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: England (1983 - 1985). 
Symphony no 5, Op. 78 by David Matthews
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Length: 23 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: England (1998 - 1999). 

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