Described as a concertino for viola and strings, Winter Remembered alludes to a poem by John Crowe Ransom. Lasting around 16 minutes, it moves through a sequence of contrasting sections to a tranquil coda. An elegiac mood is seldom absent, though Matthews offsets any feeling of uniformity through subtly varied string textures (the double bass part, in particular, sounds a demanding one) and extensive use of the violas plangent upper register.
Dedicatee Sarah-Jane Bradley played with assurance and a real appreciation of the solo lines connective role in the musical discourse. The cadenza was elegantly phrased, bringing out the instruments character to an extent shared by Hindemiths Trauermusik. This short but heartfelt tribute to the late George V is a fine example of this most technically well-equipped of composers at his most spontaneous, culminating in a chorale setting whose plaintive harmonisation leaves an enduring impression.
The Matthews commission was preceded by his recent transcription of the slow movement from Elgars String Quartet. This was straightforwardly and effectively done, and could well take its place in the extensive line of British works for strings. That said, something of the originals intimacy was lost as so often happens in transcriptions for string orchestra.
The concert was bookended by two symphonies from the early Classical era. Mozarts Thirteenth is perhaps the most appealing of his Milan symphonies, and received an enjoyable and affectionate performance if just a touch sedate in the outer movements. Haydns Philosopher is original even by the standards of his symphonies from the mid-1760s, and George Vass rightly kept the opening Adagio moving at a thoughtful walking tempo. The two cor anglais parts emerged seamlessly out of the string writing and, in the third movements trio, blended enticingly with the horns.
The energy of the two Presto movements set up effective contrasts both within the work and with the encore Griegs evergreen The Last Spring, played with an affecting tenderness.
- The Presteigne Festival runs from 22 to 27 August, with Nicholas Maw as composer-in-residence. Performances include the second performance of David Matthewss Winter Remembered, and music by Celia McDowall, Judith Bingham, Graham Williams and James Francis Brown.
- Box Office: 01544 267800 Presteigne
- Click here for David Matthewss Biography at Faber Music