Symphony No.1 Sinfonia Brevis, Op.2
Horn Concerto, Op.23
Symphony No.3, Op.33
Richard Watkins (horn)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia
Recorded 27-28 April 2006 in St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2007
CD No: DUTTON EPOCH
Duration: 61 minutes
It’s always a pleasure to encounter the tradition-based but freshly conceived music of Londoner Matthew Taylor, who was born in 1964. Even better to have three major works recorded in performances conducted by the composer and produced (by Andrew Keener) to the very highest standards.
In his booklet note, the composer reveals that Symphony No.1 (1985) owes something to Haydn’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ examples, specifically Symphony No.49 (La Passione) and follows a similar slow-fast pattern across its four movements, albeit ones played without a break and with a (separately tracked and harmonically striking) coda that ends the work enigmatically. Taylor’s debut symphony is a tautly organised affair, amazingly vivid given the scoring involves ‘only’ pairs of oboes and horns as well as strings and the whole is an intense and inventive work that enjoys a diaphanous soundworld and much that is lyrically yielding, often touching, as well as music that is rhythmically ingenious and purposeful – with a real sense of direction and climax. While pointers can be made to the music of Stravinsky and Tippett, and also a recognisable ‘Englishness’, Taylor’s lineage is more a portal to finding himself than to being stylistically ‘nailed down’.
Taylor’s Second Symphony (from the early 1990s, I believe) remains tantalisingly unperformed. His Third (completed in 2005) was first heard in tandem with the ‘Eroica’. As for his Haydn-inspired ‘Sinfonia Brevis’, Taylor has opted for a Beethoven-sized orchestra adding a harp and what he terms “light percussion”. Since the first performance (link below) Taylor has made some “minor revisions”. Cast in one movement of two parts (and presented here with 11 cueing points), the dramatic opening, the lyrical breadth and the ‘setting-up’ of situations over (here) a 26-minute span (the first performance was nearer to 30, as I recall) reminds of Robert Simpson (a glorious model and of whose music Taylor is a champion).
Symphony No.3, under the composer’s direction, emerges as a superb piece, one with the ecstatic outreach of Tippett and the inexorable energy of Simpson, the latter inflecting back to Sibelius. Yet, the ‘Lamentoso’ section that precedes the edgy and jazzy appearance of ‘Mephisto’ (a division that is both an interlude and scene-setter) can seem, in context, a little self-conscious; nevertheless the symphony’s ‘Part 2’ has a drive, vividness and wit (the occasional Malcolm Arnold-like tongue-poke) that is constantly engaging. If the working up to the final Allegro molto seems occasionally ‘on hold’ and malevolence gives way too easily to pastoral enchantment and the final pages seem disconcertingly ambiguous, then one wants to return to this work and unravel such ‘puzzles’ as well as await the Fourth Symphony that Taylor, a natural symphonist, will surely give us.
Coming between the two symphonies, both chronologically and on the CD, is the Horn Concerto written in 1999 (and revised in 2004) for Richard Watkins. It’s in two parts of two movements each (with 9 cueing points assigned) and is a concise 17 minutes’ worth of variety and intrigue. The horn’s opening flourish immediately grabs the attention and whether dancing lightly or singing raptly or, indeed, offering a fugal ‘Homage to Max Reger’, this splendid work is a gem of a listen.
The performances and recorded sound are superb.