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"Moderate Blues" from David Mathews' Oboe Concerto (Nicholas Daniel, oboe; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra)

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Classical Lost And Found: David Matthews' Compelling Concertos

Music Articles

Classical Lost And Found: David Matthews' Compelling Concertos

Album artwork for David Matthews' new CD of concertos.
Dutton Records

This new album of concertos is by the British composer David Matthews — not to be confused with the American jam band sensation Dave Matthews. The 68-year-old's symphonies, string quartets and concertos are little known here, but performed with some frequency in the U.K.

It would be too simple to call Mathews' music old-school. He writes melodies you can whistle, and his harmonies are reminiscent of his musical forebears Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett, but somehow it all comes out compellingly fresh.

The four pieces on this disc are world premiere recordings, beginning with Matthews' two-movement Violin Concerto No. 1 (1982) inspired by a film he saw based on Dostoyevsky's White Nights. The impressionistically mesmerizing opening is programmatic, with solos for flute and clarinet, as well as violin, representing characters in a love triangle. The final movement is raucous one moment, restrained the next and ends in exultation.

Matthews' oboe concerto, from 10 years later, must rank as one of the most inspired woodwind concertante works to appear in a long time. For full-sized orchestra, it's in five brief movements scored for different subsets of instruments so as not to overpower the soloist.

"Moderate Blues" from David Mathews' Oboe Concerto (Nicholas Daniel, oboe; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra)

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It gets underway with a spiky allegro, then a gamelan-like scherzo and a plaintive lament. But the fourth movement, based on American boogie-woogie pianist Arthur "Montana" Taylor's "Rotten Break Blues," is a stroke of genius you won't be able to get out of your head. The nonchalant, a la Poulenc finale is equally infectious.

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In four continuous, brilliantly orchestrated sections, the Violin Concerto No. 2 (1998) is alternately whimsical and rhapsodic. Matthews wove in a few colorful avian twitters, mimicking the birds he heard while working on the piece at fellow composer Peter Sculthorpe's house in Sydney.

Album art for David Matthews concertos.
Dutton Epoch

The disc is filled out with the gorgeous orchestral poem After Sunrise (2001), which unfolds like a musical memento of a summer day in the country. Its beginning and end are bathed in the orange glow of sunrise and sunset. In the middle, a dance-like section suggests more worldly pursuits.

Violinist Philippe Graffin and oboist Nicholas Daniel give memorable accounts of their respective concertos. Conductor George Vass along with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Nova (in the Second Violin Concerto only) provide them with exemplary orchestral support, making a strong case for music not often heard on this side of the Atlantic.

(See previous editions of Classical Lost and Found)

Bob McQuiston revels in under-the-radar repertoire at his web site Classical Lost and Found.