Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2. Viola Concerto
Garry Walker, cond;
Sara-Jane Bradley (va); BBC SO
TOCCATA 0175 (59:06)
I have reviewed music by the English composer Matthew Taylor previously, including a disc of his First and Third symphonies, and have been consistently impressed with his work. Born in 1964, Taylor was mentored by the symphonist Robert Simpson, whose 11th Symphony Taylor conducted at its premiere and also
recorded. Taylor has a high reputation as a conductor, and his experience in that area shows in his compositions: his orchestral textures are always clear and well balanced. In today’s terms, his idiom is conservative. He is more interested in thematic development than timbral effects. The twin influences of Simpson and Michael Tippett are plain in the Second Symphony but, as I wrote in an earlier review, Taylor avoids the charge of being derivative because each piece undergoes an individual musical journey, proceeding with its own organic integrity and a highly satisfying sense of inevitability.
This is certainly the case with his Second Symphony (1991/1998), a substantial work in four movements, larger in scope than either the First or Third. A strong dramatic statement sets the scene at the opening of the first movement (very like Simpson’s tendency to throw down a musical gauntlet), out of which a number of thematic strands begin to develop. The
Scherzo that follows is more about sudden contrasts, but the momentum and feeling of continuous growth remain: the movement is active rather than playful. Notable features of both movements are the leaping string lines and robust brass writing. Floating string textures underlined by single notes on the harp usher in the third movement,
, which is restrained in character, although the harmonies verge on the astringent so the mood is not entirely one of relaxation. This movement shows Taylor’s art at its most expert: woodwind counterpoint evolves naturally from a falling three-note motif, the music flows freely, and occasional gentle interjections from the piano (recalling Tippett’s Piano Concerto) add color. A return to the opening string textures provides a brief respite before a busy rhythmic figure begins the final movement, which gradually builds through a series of powerful climaxes to its inexorable conclusion. The idea behind this work came from a gynecologist friend of the composer: it represents the various stages of embryonic growth in the womb from conception to birth. While this gives an indication of the organic nature of the music, you don’t need to know this background to appreciate the piece as pure music or follow Taylor’s taut symphonic argument. The performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Garry Walker is everything the composer could wish for: vibrant, dramatically paced, and cleanly recorded.
Taylor’s attributes of clarity and organic development are similarly present in the more recent Viola Concerto, written for Sara-Jane Bradley in 2010 and winningly performed by her on this disc. One of the most memorable passages occurs in the central movement (of five, played without breaks) where the lyrical viola line swoops over high string textures before duetting with flute and then oboe. Taylor solves the problem of the solo instrument’s audibility by often cutting the accompaniment back to individual instruments or a single section of the orchestra—in this case, a chamber orchestra. The fourth movement (also slow) begins with a solo cadenza for viola but, as usual, Taylor does not dwell for too long on one episode before morphing into another. Many contemporary composers are writing for viola, perhaps because its plangent tone has such a human quality. That is definitely the case in Bradley’s heartfelt playing of this affecting Concerto. Again, the performance is excellent and well recorded. The orchestra displays tight ensemble throughout.
If you’ve responded to previous releases of Taylor’s music, you won’t need further convincing from me. His colorful, expertly scored music draws you in and always maintains a sense of propulsion and direction, even in its quieter moments. This release is strongly recommended. Hopefully, Toccata will bring us more of this composer’s output.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2, Op. 10 by Matthew Taylor
BBC Symphony Orchestra
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