Concertos by Colin Matthews

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COMPOSERS: Colin Matthews
LABELS: NMC
ALBUM TITLE: Colin Matthews
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Cello Concerto No. 2*; Cortège
PERFORMER: Leila Josefowicz (violin), Anssi Karttunen (cello); BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Oliver Knussen, *Rumon Gamba; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: NMC D 227

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Recordings rarely keep track of a composer’s imagination: this 70th birthday collection for Colin Matthews features works from 1988 to 2009 that predate the luminous evocations of No Man’s Land (review, January 2015), which signalled an expressive shift in his writing.

Most recent of the works here is the Violin Concerto, inspired by Leila Josefowicz – muse to concertos from Francesconi, Salonen and Adams in the last few years alone. She’s unlocked a sensuous outpouring from Matthews, a concerto of lithe purpose and natural flow. After the first movement’s untrammelled vivacity, the second achieves a more formal cogency: throaty gestures from the soloist over pulsing brass are spun into soaring, bluesy arabesques over a slowly rotating ground. The fearless Josefowicz brings her unique improvisatory energy, finding exuberant equals in Oliver Knussen and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The thunderous processional Cortège (1988) throws us into a surge of Stygian gloom, somewhere between Mahler and Birtwistle at his grittiest. Its tremendous climax is given shuddering conviction by the Concertgebouw under Riccardo Chailly. The Cello Concerto No. 2 (1996) opens with a noble ‘declamato’, harking back to Britten’s Cello Symphony, the soloist radiant against a shadowy, static backdrop. Particularly fine are the exchanges with bass harp and cello in the first ‘song’, with its striking high pizzicato chords. A scherzo of monstrous menace erupts in the bass brass, the soloist returning centre stage for a plangent, if ill-tuned second ‘song’. A finale of scintillating orchestral virtuosity recalls Dutilleux, ecstatic tumult giving way to mystic calm. Anssi Karttunen is strong, but doesn’t quite do justice to an often beautiful work: it’s time for the next generation to take it on.

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Helen Wallace