It’s quite something when a piece of music opens as arrestingly as does Matthew Taylor’s Second Symphony, a sort of cosmic explosion that immediately obliges attention and suggests that the whole world of the next 37 minutes is already implicit but it needs to be explored and expanded. One might cite (strictly alphabetically) Bruckner, Nielsen, Sibelius, Robert Simpson and Tippett – each a master symphonist – as somewhere in the mix of Taylor’s score, yet it is also very personal and not quite like anything else. The first movement, the longest, is of evocative suggestion and soaring emotion, grabbing the listener in its heaven-storming power, its amplitude and swiftness, and also the vibrant scoring (fastidiously attended to in this performance).
Yet, even early on, secure in the feeling that the remaining movements will be just as compelling, one becomes incredulous that this striking work completed in 1991 should be unperformed until the date of this recording, during which time Taylor exercised some revisions. The second-movement scherzo is deft and dazzling (the very opening, and through the way a piano is used, reminds of the ‘Ostinato’ section, a palindrome, from the Symphonic Suite that Berg compiled from his left-unfinished opera Lulu); not that Taylor’s writing goes back on itself but rather forces forward, glinting and energised; a thrilling ride, not without shafts of wit that remind of Malcolm Arnold (his Beckus the Dandipratt, to be precise) but uppermost there is present a forward-moving focus and vigour that Nielsen and Simpson were also able to sustain. The slow movement is a complete contrast, fragile solo string lines seem to lament, yet the textures can be as bright as a dawning day, the piano and high woodwinds given much to do, and there is even a hint of a gentle lullaby... and straight into the propulsive and dynamic finale that culminates what is an indisputable symphonic experience, high-spirited with room for lyrical expression and ear-tickling orchestration, but nothing is going to stop the exuberant and emphatic onslaught of the final bars. In short, this is a tremendous and genuine Symphony, superbly performed and vividly recorded.
Taylor’s Viola Concerto (2010) consists of five short movements, the Humoreskes, immediately summoning to mind Sibelius’s six pieces of that title for violin and orchestra. Taylor opens with a lyrical Andante, gaining in intensity, the viola summoning numerous orchestral solos in comradeship. Such musing is followed by a miniature scherzo of much bright-eyed scurrying and rhythmic resilience. There follow two slow movements, very much he heart of the work, the first deeply and richly expressed, the second more anguished and beginning and ending as a cadenza for the soloist before disrupted by timpani to launch a dynamic finale of hard-won victory. Sarah-Jane Bradley plays with top-end technique and penetrating musicianship.
This is I believe the third release that Toccata Classics has devoted to Matthew Taylor’s music. As ever with this enterprising label the presentation and annotation is first-rate, and includes a note by the composer (who reveals much about the Symphony’s genesis). Hopefully there is more to come; a further issue of Taylor’s orchestral music, perhaps for his 50th-birthday at the end of next year, could valuably embrace Storr and the Third Symphony. Meanwhile this current publication is recommended with all possible enthusiasm.