D MATTHEWS Complete Piano Trios
Is it a British thing? Confronted with composers who write fresh, communicative music, rooted but not trapped in tradition, we…well, we don’t neglect them exactly. David Matthews recently published his Op 143 (A Song for Max for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano), and this first recording of what he calls ‘my trio of piano trios’ is the latest of a series of discs from Toccata Classics devoted to his chamber music. But if we don’t neglect them, it can certainly feel like we don’t always cherish them as we should.
And we really should. Try the Adagio of Matthews’s Second Trio, of 1993. Over a measured accompaniment on the piano, violin and cello sing and climb and soar; a long, glorious melody that simply builds and builds. It’s almost Schubertian in its cumulative poignancy. Matthews is a romantic. You don’t have to read the booklet-notes (in which he explains that he conceived the piece as a memorial to a loved one) to sense that.
True, that movement isn’t entirely typical. Matthews tends, like Haydn, to write concise, energetic movements, crammed (again, like Haydn) with ideas. And again, you don’t need to know the specific sources of his inspiration – which range from a West Highland seascape in the Second Trio to a deadpan portrait of Hans Keller in the scherzo of the First – to respond to this music. It rewards repeated listening, with Matthews’s lyrical gift never far from the surface (and very much front and centre in his Journeying Songs for unaccompanied cello, sensitively performed here by the Leonore Trio’s cellist Gemma Rosefield).
The Leonore Trio have clearly lived with this music; their playing is alert and stylish, unafraid to let the melodies soar. ‘Their performances seem to me definitive,’ says Matthews. Not wanting (or needing) to gainsay the composer, I’ll only add that the recorded sound is lucid and natural.