A Good Deal – 10 August

Symphony No.13 in F, K112
Elgar arr. David Matthews
String Quartet in E minor, Op.83 – slow movement
David Matthews
Winter Remembered, Op.86 [world premiere]
Symphony No.22 in E flat (The Philosopher)

Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola)

Deal Festival Orchestra

George Vass

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 10 August, 2002
Venue: St George’s Church, Deal, Kent

The final concert of this year’s Deal Festival brought a varied programme, made possible through a collaboration with the Presteigne Festival – which will give the second performance of the commission from David Matthews.

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 viola’s plangent upper register.

Dedicatee Sarah-Jane Bradley played with assurance and a real appreciation of the solo line’s connective role in the musical discourse. The cadenza was elegantly phrased, bringing out the instrument’s character to an extent shared by Hindemith’s 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 Elgar’s 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 original’s intimacy was lost – as so often happens in transcriptions for string orchestra.

The concert was ’bookended’ by two symphonies from the early Classical era. Mozart’s 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. Haydn’s 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 movement’s 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 – Grieg’s 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 Matthews’s Winter Remembered, and music by Celia McDowall, Judith Bingham, Graham Williams and James Francis Brown.
  • Box Office: 01544 267800 Presteigne
  • Click here for David Matthews’s Biography at Faber Music

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