Colin Anderson writes... Although industrious as record-producer, author, editor and reviewer, Robert Matthew-Walker, born London in 1939, has been just as solicitous as a composer. His ongoing catalogue currently stands at 150-plus opus numbers and of late he has been responding to several commissions.
This Guild release, however generous on its own terms, can only be considered as a taster of a considerable output, including several Symphonies. It’s a pleasure to return to Violin Sonata No.2 (2015), which I reviewed the premiere of and, indeed, here is that performance. If I may repeat myself: “This is music full of Eastern Promise, rigorous yet rhapsodic with many rhythmic sleights of hand, lyrically generous, too, and folksy.” I enjoyed it even more second time around; music of craft and communication given an admirable performance.
Sonata Solemnis (completed on New Year’s Day 1980), dedicated to Alun Hoddinott, is scored for six percussionists. It has three movements and although it makes some intriguing sounds – crash-bang, yes, but also many colours and subtleties – I did wonder if it is too similar across the sixteen-minute whole, for all that Matthew-Walker uses tuned (and therefore melodic) percussion and the last movement, an Adagio, is rather magical in its twilight ritualism.
The expansive String Quartet No.1 is from a year earlier. It is dedicated to Edmund Rubbra. It’s a ‘traditional’ four-movement piece, with the Scherzo second (marked Presto e feroce) followed by the slow movement. Matthew-Walker, who has written the booklet note, advises that this score emanates from being written on train journeys – composer as commuter – and all he needed was a manuscript pad and a pen, and of course a fertile imagination. The String Quartet is a very fine piece, the going-places first movement reminding of early Michael Tippett, which I hope Matthew-Walker will take as a compliment, followed by the ‘ferocious’ second, the music propulsive, bit into and strongly rhythmic. Following which is a serene Adagio, again quite Tippettian – expansive, expressive and Elysian – and the Quartet is concluded with an anguished Largo leading to a resolute Allegro, returning disquiet and a coda that appears angry.
Matthew-Walker is also an organist, and his Sonata Magna (1983) is a terrific piece, teeming with suspense and invention, and easily sustaining twenty-two minutes. It sounds great on the Cologne Cathedral organ, which is capable of huge sounds contrasted with the most refined and delicate, the latter coming across here as having sci-fi connections (the composer writes about black holes), and not forgetting a couple of well-known plainchants that seep into music that is at once about sound as music and the discharges of energy. The recording deals well with the torrents of sounds easily, preserving a masterly account by the late Jeremy Wallbank, and although one appreciates the individually of Sonata Magna, I suggest that fans of Messiaen’s organ music will find much to intrigue them.
To close, and extracted from the Music to Hear cycle, are two settings of Shakespeare, Matthew-Walker the pianist accompanies Yvonne Fuller in contrasted pieces, a very melodious ‘Full fathom five’ and a scintillating ‘Tell me where is fancy bred’, the composer very nimble on a piano that seems recorded in a different venue, and if the sound is variable throughout the disc (that from Wigmore Hall being the best, closely followed by Cologne) then this should not affect an enthusiastic recommendation for music that is at once time-honoured and personal.
Edward Clark writes... This Guild release offers an insight into Robert Matthew-Walker’s wide-ranging compositional abilities. Here we can listen, with much pleasure, to a fertile musical imagination.
I am delighted to hear again Violin Sonata No.2. This confirms my thoughts as to it being an attractive addition to the repertoire and is played with great style and panache. Sinfonia Solemnis is a terrific tour de force, compelling in its effects and spellbinding in its invention. It is helped by a great performance.
No matter how Matthew-Walker approaches writing music, melody is never far from his muse. String Quartet No.1 (1979) would have sounded old-fashioned in that era for quest and investigation of new musical impulses. Today we can enjoy the unending flow of tunefulness and intriguing counterpoint that underpin an attractive creation. The McCapra String Quartet plays with obvious feeling but the sound-quality is a bit homespun.
The listener’s attention is grabbed from the very beginning of Sonata Magna. The composer’s booklet note needs to be read to grasp what lies behind the extraordinary sounds that emanate from the organ. It is played with great authority by Jeremy Wallbank. This stimulating issue is rounded off with songs from Music to Hear, both settings of Shakespeare, sung with lovely tone by Yvonne Fuller with the composer giving full vent to the extraordinary accompaniment.