Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 5,
TOCCATA 0059 (61:04)
There are only two other discs of the music of David Matthews (b. 1943, brother of Colin Matthews) on the
Archive. This is a grave situation, just as the shortfall of recordings of his music is grave. Both pieces on the present disc are recorded for the first time.
Matthews’s music is consistently fascinating and expertly crafted. What’s more, he has an individual voice that deserves exploration. There is a sort of cosmic joke, perhaps, that David Matthews was brought up in Leytonstone, East London, U.K. I am writing this, well, you guessed, it, in my flat around five minutes’ walk from Leytonstone tube station. Matthews was born in Walthamstow (just up the road).
Enough of inessentials and trivialities. This is actually the second volume of Matthews’s string quartets on the enterprising Toccata Classics label (the first volume does not appear in the Archive, so I have to assume it has not been reviewed: it contains the Fourth, Sixth, and 10th quartets and the
, op. 56a, and I for one would love to hear it). Matthews cites as influences the late Beethoven quartets (which he first heard in the legendary Busch Quartet recordings), Bartók, Schoenberg, and Berg (
). The expressivity of Bartók’s characteristic harmonies can he heard in Matthews’s Fifth Quartet (1984), as can the scurryings of Berg. There are elements of Greece here, too (in response to a holiday on Santorini), as Matthews bases the first movement on the form of the Pindaric ode. The performance by the Kreutzer Quartet is astonishing. Their virtuosity in the
central section is jaw-dropping, and the sheer energy they generate could light up a small village. The music here becomes ever more gestural before suddenly cutting, filmically almost, into the stasis of the
. The music is demanding of its performers here, as much in terms of sustaining the atmosphere as of the notes themselves. It then moves to an angst-laden climax. The Kreutzer Quartet cannot be faulted. Neither can the engineer, Jonathan Haskell. This is one of the best string quartet recordings I have heard in a while.
The 12th Quartet (2010) is modeled on Beethoven’s op. 130 (an idea inspired by a performance of the latter by the Kreutzer Quartet, with the
, attended by the composer). Like Beethoven’s essay, Matthews’s piece has two larger movements at either end (in this case, a tad short of 10 minutes each) with a sequence of shorter movements, including dance movements, in between. Matthews also inserts three cadenzas to link the three central movements. Beethoven is not the only referand, however. The sixth movement, a Menuetto grazioso, references Peter Sculthorpe’s 11th Quartet (Sculthorpe is a fellow Faber composer).
The writing is astonishingly assured. Sudden statements in octaves have a Beethovenian weight to them. The writing is complex but not overwhelming and expressive in a way that points both to late Beethoven but also to the quartets of the Second Viennese School. The use of a tango (for the second movement) equates to Beethoven’s dance movements while bringing the idea more up to date. No doubting the enjoyment gleaned by the Kreutzer Quartet here. There is plenty of fun to be had in the Haydnesque “Menuetto scherzando” (and some great pizzicato playing from the quartet); the ensuing cello cadenza (Neil Heyde) is simply superb. More fun in the Serenade before Matthews plumbs depths almost worthy of the late Beethoven quartets in his “Canto mesto.” The climax is truly anguished. The lighter counterpoint of the penultimate movement (“Menuettto grazioso”) is delivered with panache and no small amount of wit; the finale refers back to the first movement and includes fugal passages, and an amazingly scored moment of birdsong. The writing is complex yet vastly rewarding. The Kreutzer Quartet, the work’s dedicatees, give a performance that is unlikely to be bettered. The other David Matthews review I referred to at the outset is of his Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, and 5 on Dutton (
33:1). That’s another essential purchase.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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