Composers: David Matthews
Compositions: Symphony No 9, Double Concerto
Performers: English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods
Catalogue Number: NIMBUS NI6382

David Matthews and his older brother Colin, also a composer, were assistants to Britten during the late 60s. Colin is known for his orchestrations of Debussy’s piano music, while David has produced a vast body of work in traditional forms and, as of now, nine symphonies.

Like Shostakovich, Matthews decided against a monumental Ninth. Written in five movements, the work is based on a carol that he composed for his wife. It has dramatic moments, but is generally light in intensity. The delicate fourth movement, Ombroso, pits dancelike woodwinds against pizzicato strings, while the work finishes in a flood of major key warmth. Matthews is a genuine symphonist and squeezes every drop of developmental interest out of his theme.

The Variations for Strings on Bach’s Chorale Die Nacht ist kommen date from 1986. Matthews’ English roots are clear in this lovely work, although he stretches the pastoral mood to incorporate a jazzy ‘walking bass’ in the third variation. Like Britten’s Lachrymae, he places the chorale theme at the end, adding only a brief coda. The Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Strings is another attractive work in the same vein, where string soloists Trickey and Bradley show genuine rapport. Performances and sound quality are first rate.

The review has been amended since publication, removing a reference to an anecdote about David and Colin Matthews angering Britten by drawing a cartoon in one of his manuscripts. We have been reliably informed that this event never occurred.