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David Matthews: Music For Piano

Matthews / Mikkola / Orchestra Nova / Vass
Release Date: 03/26/2013 
Label:  Toccata Classics   Catalog #: 166   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  David Matthews
Performer:  Laura Mikkola
Conductor:  George Vass
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

D. MATTHEWS Piano Concerto, Op. 111 1. Piano Sonata, Op. 47. Variations for Piano, Op. 72. Two Dionysus Dithyrambs, Op. 94. One to Tango, Op. 51d Laura Mikkola (pn); 1 George Vass, cond; 1 O Read more Nova TOCCATA 0166 (56:26)

Following on from my reviews of David Matthews’s string quartets (Nos. 5 and 12, Fanfare 36:4) and symphonies (Nos. 1, 3, and 5, Fanfare 33:1), and perhaps forming the logical continuation, the present disc concentrates on his piano music. In Laura Mikkola, Matthews finds a staunch advocate; she is fully possessed of the technique required and seems impeccably suited to the various modes of expression the composer uses.

Matthews refers to his Piano Concerto (2009) as “Mozartian,” and it certainly is in dimensions, lasting a mere 18:27. It is perhaps Debussy that is called to mind in the washes of sound of the opening, except Matthews renders them as rather fragile. The serious first movement contrasts with the playful tango of the second (great accent play here by all concerned). The Elegy which follows is a Largo e mesto in memory of Sue Skempton (who died in 2008 and who was the wife of Howard Skempton). This is a lovely movement, leading to a finale that is identifiably English light music of the 20th/21st centuries: This more than any other movement seems to reveal a debt to the English pastoralists.

The Piano Sonata is given an excellent performance here. Cast in one movement divided into three sections (separately tracked on this disc), the first section’s musical language seems to owe something to Hindemith. The music itself has energy to spare. The shadow of jazz lurks in the background of the highly rhythmic first section, made more explicit in the final Allegro . Between the two is the desolate Andante , sparse and restrained, quiet throughout. There is some jaw-dropping pianism involved in the virtuoso finale, an expertly conceived mix of jazz rhythms and harder-edged gestures. For the Variations (premiered 1997), Matthews takes his original theme and splits his 24 variations into two groups, a group of 15 mainly fast takes on the theme followed by the remainder in slower guise (the latter group includes two blues). There is also a short tribute to Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, humorously marked Presto ludoviscioso . In a relatively short time (11:52), this piece traverses an awful lot of ground. Mikkola has the timbral resources to make this a gratifyingly varied journey, and the return to simplicity at the close is most satisfying.

The Two Dionysus Dithyrambs (the title refers to Nietzsche) were composed three years apart, No. 2 first in 1994, then No. 1 in 2007. The language is more acerbic than heretofore on this disc, yet the occasional washes of sound in No. 1 seem to link to those heard in the later Piano Concerto; the second Dithyramb poses huge technical challenges, ably met by Mikkola.

The Tango acts as a sort of encore. It is one of several versions of the tango finale of Matthews’s Fourth Symphony (1990) and is extremely charming as well as expertly crafted.

Matthews speaks eloquently of his relationship with the keyboard in his booklet essay, “The Piano and Me: A Belated Engagement.” The recording of the entire disc has great presence. In short, it is so good to see the music of David Matthews get its due.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano, Op. 47 by David Matthews
Performer:  Laura Mikkola (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; England 
Date of Recording: 10/26/2012 
Venue:  Pamoja Hall, The Space Performing Arts C 
Length: 6 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Concerto for piano & orchestra, Op. 111 by David Matthews
Performer:  Laura Mikkola (Piano)
Conductor:  George Vass
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2009 
Date of Recording: 10/25/2012 
Venue:  Pamoja Hall, The Space Performing Arts C 
Length: 17 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Variations for piano, Op. 72 by David Matthews
Performer:  Laura Mikkola (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1997 
Date of Recording: 10/26/2012 
Venue:  Pamoja Hall, The Space Performing Arts C 
Length: 10 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Dionysus Dithyrambs (2), for piano, Op. 94 by David Matthews
Performer:  Laura Mikkola (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2004 
Date of Recording: 10/26/2012 
Venue:  Pamoja Hall, The Space Performing Arts C 
Length: 5 Minutes 8 Secs. 
One to Tango, for piano, Op. 51d by David Matthews
Performer:  Laura Mikkola (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1993 
Date of Recording: 10/26/2012 
Venue:  Pamoja Hall, The Space Performing Arts C 
Length: 2 Minutes 58 Secs. 

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