COMPOSERS: D Matthews
LABELS: Toccata Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Matthews String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 5 & 12
PERFORMER: Kreutzer Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: TOCC0059
The second volume of the Kreutzer Quartet’s survey of David Matthews’s String Quartets maintains the high standard of the first (which tackled the Fourth, Sixth and Tenth Quartets), and more. It reinforces the view that, Robert Simpson apart, he is probably the most important British quartet composer of recent decades.
Here we have two premiere recordings: the three-movement Fifth Quartet (1984) is terse, intense and superbly sustained, but it’s the very recent Quartet No. 12 (2009-10) that is the revelation. Its eight movements, incorporating short pre-written pieces – a Tango, a Serenade, two Minuets – are poised on the more massive foundations of an opening prelude and fugue, a deeply felt and thoughtful slow movement and a jubilant finale, not to mention evocations of European and Australian birdsong at salient points in the structure. Like the late Beethoven quartets that are so clearly one of its inspirations, the Quartet No. 12 seems to cram in almost more than its form can take. Yet the resulting imaginative enlargement of the genre – with sounds that are weighty yet practically angst-free – makes this work, for me, one of Matthews’s most important achievements.
The Kreutzer Quartet (each of whom gets a solo spot in the work’s linking cadenzas) are at the very top of their game in expounding this important and masterly score. I have no hesitation in recommending this disc.