Matthews, D From Sea to Sky
The Proms prospectus hailed David Matthews as “the 21st century’s outstanding heir to the great tradition of English symphonism”. The premiere of his Sixth Symphony, based on Vaughan Williams’s hymn tune “Come down O love divine”, supported such a lineage that can’t yet be substantiated on CD. But the new release is welcome as Matthews’s first single-composer disc since some chamber works 12 years ago (Metronome, 2/95) and reveals more of his personality with works for string orchestra and three song-cycles with chamber accompaniments, all written in the past 15 years.
Matthews, more obviously than his brother Colin, is a composer in the English tradition: he worked as an assistant to Britten for three years and has written books on him and Tippett. The first of the song-cycles, A Congress of Passions, is a setting of Sappho sung in the original Greek and drawing on Cretan folk music. Movements of Autumn sets poems by Vernon Watkins, nicely sung by Rachel Nicholls although her diction is weak. “Moonrise” is an atmospheric nocturne that recalls Britten’s examples. The most attractive of the cycles is The Sleeping Lord, using part of a poem by David Jones. Gillian Keith’s soprano is eloquent with deftly controlled long high notes, although without any texts provided the context for these is obscure. Permissions to reprint can be disproportionately expensive.
Of the instrumental works, From Sea to Sky is a busy Kent seascape; Aubade is about Australian birds with no hint of Messiaen’s techniques; and Total Tango is an amiable five-minute piece that barely refers to the traditional rhythm. The composer pays tribute to these sympathetic performers and one can see why.