D Matthews: In the Dark Time; Chaconne

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: D Matthews
LABELS: NMC
WORKS: In the Dark Time; Chaconne
PERFORMER: BBC SO/Jac van Steen
CATALOGUE NO: D 067
Given that David Matthews is one of the few significant British composers still working in traditional genres of symphony, string quartet and nature-evocation, his discography has remained stubbornly small in proportion to his achievement. So this release is immensely welcome: two of the finest British orchestral works of the Eighties, utterances symphonic in scale and at least as powerful as any of Matthews’s numbered symphonies. The tone poem In the Dark Time traces the turn of the year through declining autumn and winter stasis to the renewal of spring. Though that seasonal progression gives shape and impulse to the form, it’s one of those rare pieces that seems conceived in a single vast breath over its near-half-hour duration, life and movement quickening and slowing above a calm, inevitable harmonic under-pulse like an enormous Sibelian pedal-point. For all its flamboyant handling of a large orchestra it’s akin to Tapiola, and one can hardly aim higher.

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The Chaconne presents an even darker version of pastoral, poised between ground-based polyphony and scudding, hallucinatory scherzi: a meditation on what landscape may hide. Its inspiration in Geoffrey Hill’s poem about the medieval battle of Towton led Matthews to evoke innocent fields overlaid with the memory of ancient slaughter. The performances, beautifully paced and balanced, seem exemplary. Calum MacDonald