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Colin Matthews Orchestral Music

London Sinfonietta & Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/John Carewe; LSO/Michael Tilson Thomas

; Cello Concerto; Hidden Variables; Memorial; Quatrain; Machines and Dreams

NMC Ancora D 101 [109 mins]

Colin Matthews (b.1946) is important as a prolific and versatile composer, and equally through his work as executive producer of NMC with involvement in many capacities in Britain's most important label for contemporary music.

NMC eschews the advice of accountants to delete whatever shows poor sales figures, and has an established policy never to delete. The entire datalogue, from 1989, remains permanently available.

Its latest venture is ANCORA, the acquisition of significant recordings that had disappeared from other catalogues. And few will prove more sigtnificant than this survey of Colin Matthews' own music from recordings with the London Sinfonietta & Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra with John Carewe conducting, and with Michael Tilson Thomas with the LSO.

They were originally released by Unicorn-Kanchana and Collins Classics, the complete demise of the latter being a major catastrophe for collectors (and composers too) - now, various labels have, mercifully come to the rescue and one innovative development is the initiative that Peter Maxwell Davies has taken to make his own music available through the internet.

Teasing out the dates of composition from Andrew Clements' enthusiastic and discursive essay is not easy, but the recording histories are provided in NMC's comprehensive booklet and to facilitate study the track lists divide the six works into short sections.

Landscape is a journey 'with three starts and several false arrivals', three 'journeys from darkenss to light'. A rich tapestry, of the sort of weight that would previously be dignified by being called a symphony.

The two movement Cello Concerto has a first one with a 'gigantic arch' and a second adagio, witht the soloist a 'musical philosopher' with 'cadenza-like ruminations', Hidden Variables is a set of 'overlapping variations' with recognisable vignettes in the styles of some of the most successful minimalist composers, reflecting Matthews' ambivalence about that movement. Memorial is a powerful movement which may suggest memories of Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, ending with 'an elegiac processional'. Machines and Dreams is an updated Toy Symphony, a delightful, lighter piece with children providing clockwork noises, bird calls and even depicting football hooligans!

An essential double-CD for people who want to keep abreast of British music around the turn of the century.


© Peter Grahame Woolf