DAVID MATTHEWS: The Music of Dawn, Op. 50; Concerto in Azzurro, Op. 87; A Vision and a journey, Op. 60 – Guy Johnston, cello/ BBC Philharmonic/ Rumon Gamba, conductor – Chandos 10487, 70:53 ***1/2 [Distr. by Naxos]:
David Matthews is a composer of some renown who writes music that is engaging and accessible, in the best sense of the word. However, after being enthralled at the opening of The Music of Dawn I felt letdown when he seemed unable to sustain the initial promise of the opening material. In general I think this may be a problem of this composer, for his ideas, often pregnant with an immediate appeal, falter as time progresses. I kept waiting for something spectacular to happen, but the end result was a sort of stasis whereby ideas were churning but not developing. Nonetheless, the first 15 minutes are quite interesting, pictorial and highly visual in nature.
The Concerto in Azzurro seems to capture the composer’s imagination and technical facility with more comprehension and expressiveness. Perhaps it is the continual dialogue between cello and orchestra that makes for a more intellectual and consequently emotional connection with the listener. Or perhaps it is just the idea of the Isle of Lindy in the Bristol Channel rising from the blue sea that keeps the forward momentum going, but this is a capital concerto with much to offer both from the obvious concerto-like elements and the more impressionistic tone poem elements of the work.
Maybe the shorter A Vision and a Journey kept the composer from wandering too much in his thoughts the way he does in The Music of Dawn—it is hard to say. But I found the fantasy elements of this work to be especially appealing, and Matthews moves consistently across the various emotive sections with great fluency and adeptness. Those of you who enjoy the full frontal use of the symphony orchestra, particularly the brass section, will find much to admire in this and all of these works. This is generally a fine effort, and a composer to respect and enjoy. The sound and playing are vivid and fully realized – surely definitive recordings.
— Steven Ritter