Plus Variations for Strings and Double Concerto for Violin and Viola

Sara Trickey violin
Sarah-Jane Bradley viola
English Symphony Orchestra
English String Orchestra
Kenneth Woods conductor

Nimbus Alliance NI 6382

Kenneth Woods, conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, makes the point about this work (one also made by Schoenberg) that there is still a lot of great music to be written in C major. David Matthews’ music is basically tonal, and he has plenty to say in the various keys available to him.

Symphony no 9 was completed in 2016 and is the latest in a significant stream of symphonies which began with the first in completed in 1978 and revised in 2007. 

A major influence on David (and also his brother Colin) is the music of Mahler and this ninth symphony has a five-movement cyclical shape which reminds us of Mahler’s fifth, although this work is modest in dimension; Matthews explains that it is more ‘Shostakovich 9 than Beethoven 9’.

The work grew out of a carol Matthews had written for his wife, and the first movement opens very simply, becoming denser and more dramatic as the carol material is transformed. The work has five movements, and like Matthews’ fourth symphony, has two scherzos surrounding a central slow movement. This slow movement is reworked from a string piece (A June Song) composed in 2015.

The second scherzo is a waltz played by wind instruments with pizzicato in the strings throughout, and the finale was inspired by the final movement of Sibelius 3, where the main theme emerges ‘out of the swirling mists of the beginning’. In Matthews’ case a gigantic and discordant climax is followed by a simple version of the carol which opened the work, and then a final brass version, sounding like a chorale and ending in C major.

Also on the disc is the Variations for strings begun in 1986. The theme is Bach’s chorale Die Nacht ist kommen which does not appear complete until the end of the work. In the CD booklet Matthews provides a list of the various sections of the piece (10 in all) which helps the listener understand how the variations are built up. After the tune has been heard complete there is a vigorous epilogue which ends decisively in C minor. The string writing is always dexterous and imaginative.

Mozart was the ‘inspiration’ for the Double concerto for Violin and Viola of 2013. Played here with relish by Sara Trickey and Sarah-Jane Bradley. The accompaniment is for strings only and there are the usual three movements. In the middle section of the slow movement the soloists imitate nightingales which for Matthews represent spring; and this ties in nicely with Symphony no 9, where Matthews’ own programme note declares that the final section marks the arrival of spring.

Review by Ronald Corp