Andrew Matthews-Owen is best known as an accompanist – or rather a collaborative pianist – and has featured on well-received recordings of Hoddinott, Charlotte Bray and Jonathan Dove for BMS, Naxos and NMC. A contemporary music specialist, for his first solo recording he includes works he has premiered, such as the complete Preludes (2013‑16) by Joseph Phibbs (b1974), of which he is the dedicatee.
Although the first couple were written separately (No 2, ‘Fantasia for Colin’, to celebrate the 70th birthday of this year’s Gramophone Special Achievement Award recipient, Colin Matthews), the six pieces form a cohesive whole, restrained in mood (except in No 5, ‘Neon’), studies in the subtlety of simplicity. Together they are as large as Dobrinka Tabakova’s Modétudes (1994‑99) and Hannah Kendall’s On the Chequer’d Field Array’d (2013) combined. Kendall’s triptych – also premiered by Matthews-Owen – is inspired, as the title might suggest, by chess, the three movements portraying the initial ‘Mindplay’, the dramatic ‘Middlegame’ (without Blissian theatrics) and the inevitability of the brief endgame, ‘Coda’.
Tabakova (b1980) is probably the best known of the three and two of her works here – Modétudes and Nocturne – have been recorded before, very nicely, by Evelyn Chang on Avie. Modétudes is beautifully constructed; seven brief modal études (hence the title), remarkably varied in mood. Enchanting as it and Nocturne (2008) are, both are set in the shade by Halo (1999), Tabakova’s entrancing depiction of a lunar halo seen one summer’s night. Matthews-Owen catches its delicacy and inner steel superbly and his playing throughout is a marvel, as is Nimbus’s recording, though here and there the piano tone is a little wayward.