COMPOSERS: C Matthews
LABELS: Hallé CD
WORKS: Aftertones; Crossing the Alps; No Man’s Land
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone); Hallé Choir; Hallé/Nicholas Collon; Hallé Youth Choir/
CATALOGUE NO: HLL 7538
Curiously, Colin Matthews’s Aftertones opens with a strong echo of a baleful chord from Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien. Whether deliberate or not, this creates an appropriate sense of foreboding, which effectively counterbalances the serene, Vaughan Williams-like choral setting of Edmund Blunden’s portrayal of a war-torn landscape. Yet Matthews also conveys the poetry’s underlying menace, overlaying the chorus’s music with diaphanous string harmonies like acrid vapour, followed by a ‘dance of death’ movement. The final movement, ‘Death of Childhood Beliefs’ with its image of ‘scrambling boys’, stirs memories of Britten with the music’s sense of twilight wonder.
Crossing the Alps, setting lines from Wordsworth’s The Prelude to eight-part chorus (occasionally underpinned by organ pedals), seems to blend Holst’s mysticism with Kodály’s more exotic and wonder-struck harmonic style. Yet most affecting of all is No Man’s Land, a surreal cantata featuring a First World War Sergeant (Roderick Williams) and his Captain (Ian Bostridge), now dead in no man’s land, yet each still resonant with songs and memories. These are paradoxically made all the more vivid by a honky-tonk piano and old 78 recordings woven into the orchestral fabric to haunting effect.