GMCD 7423 – Music by Robert Matthew-Walker

Lisa Ueda (violin), Daniele Rinaldo (piano), Royal Northern College of Music Percussion Ensemble, McCapra String Quartet, Jeremy Wallbank (organ), Yvonne Fuller (soprano), Robert Matthew-Walker (piano)

To the CD in our Shop December 2016

Colin Anderson writes… Although industrious as record-producer, author, editor and reviewer, Robert Matthew-Walker, born London in 1939, has been just as solicitous as a composer. His ongoing catalogue currently stands at 150-plus opus numbers and of late he has been responding to several commissions.
This Guild release, however generous on its own terms, can only be considered as a taster of a considerable output, including several Symphonies. It’s a pleasure to return to Violin Sonata No.2 (2015), which I reviewed the premiere of and, indeed, here is that performance. If I may repeat myself: “This is music full of Eastern Promise, rigorous yet rhapsodic with many rhythmic sleights of hand, lyrically generous, too, and folksy.” I enjoyed it even more second time around; music of craft and communication given an admirable performance.
Sonata Solemnis (completed on New Year’s Day 1980), dedicated to Alun Hoddinott, is scored for six percussionists. It has three movements and although it makes some intriguing sounds – crash-bang, yes, but also many colours and subtleties – I did wonder if it is too similar across the sixteen-minute whole, for all that Matthew-Walker uses tuned (and therefore melodic) percussion and the last movement, an Adagio, is rather magical in its twilight ritualism.
The expansive String Quartet No.1 is from a year earlier. It is dedicated to Edmund Rubbra. It’s a ‘traditional’ four-movement piece, with the Scherzo second (marked Presto e feroce) followed by the slow movement. Matthew-Walker, who has written the booklet note, advises that this score emanates from being written on train journeys – composer as commuter – and all he needed was a manuscript pad and a pen, and of course a fertile imagination. The String Quartet is a very fine piece, the going-places first movement reminding of early Michael Tippett, which I hope Matthew-Walker will take as a compliment, followed by the ‘ferocious’ second, the music propulsive, bit into and strongly rhythmic. Following which is a serene Adagio, again quite Tippettian – expansive, expressive and Elysian – and the Quartet is concluded with an anguished Largo leading to a resolute Allegro, returning disquiet and a coda that appears angry.
Matthew-Walker is also an organist, and his Sonata Magna (1983) is a terrific piece, teeming with suspense and invention, and easily sustaining twenty-two minutes. It sounds great on the Cologne Cathedral organ, which is capable of huge sounds contrasted with the most refined and delicate, the latter coming across here as having sci-fi connections (the composer writes about black holes), and not forgetting a couple of well-known plainchants that seep into music that is at once about sound as music and the discharges of energy. The recording deals well with the torrents of sounds easily, preserving a masterly account by the late Jeremy Wallbank, and although one appreciates the individually of Sonata Magna, I suggest that fans of Messiaen’s organ music will find much to intrigue them.
To close, and extracted from the Music to Hear cycle, are two settings of Shakespeare, Matthew-Walker the pianist accompanies Yvonne Fuller in contrasted pieces, a very melodious ‘Full fathom five’ and a scintillating ‘Tell me where is fancy bred’, the composer very nimble on a piano that seems recorded in a different venue, and if the sound is variable throughout the disc (that from Wigmore Hall being the best, closely followed by Cologne) then this should not affect an enthusiastic recommendation for music that is at once time-honoured and personal.
Edward Clark writes… This Guild release offers an insight into Robert Matthew-Walker’s wide-ranging compositional abilities. Here we can listen, with much pleasure, to a fertile musical imagination.
I am delighted to hear again Violin Sonata No.2. This confirms my thoughts as to it being an attractive addition to the repertoire and is played with great style and panache. Sinfonia Solemnis is a terrific tour de force, compelling in its effects and spellbinding in its invention. It is helped by a great performance.
No matter how Matthew-Walker approaches writing music, melody is never far from his muse. String Quartet No.1 (1979) would have sounded old-fashioned in that era for quest and investigation of new musical impulses. Today we can enjoy the unending flow of tunefulness and intriguing counterpoint that underpin an attractive creation. The McCapra String Quartet plays with obvious feeling but the sound-quality is a bit homespun.
The listener’s attention is grabbed from the very beginning of Sonata Magna. The composer’s booklet note needs to be read to grasp what lies behind the extraordinary sounds that emanate from the organ. It is played with great authority by Jeremy Wallbank. This stimulating issue is rounded off with songs from Music to Hear, both settings of Shakespeare, sung with lovely tone by Yvonne Fuller with the composer giving full vent to the extraordinary accompaniment.
Colin Anderson & Edward Clark

MusicWeb International Nov. 2016

Robert Matthew-Walker’s activities have ranged far and wide. He is by no means a figure exclusive to the classical music world. He studied at Goldsmith’s College, University of London, the London College of Music and with Darius Milhaud (1962-63). Matthew-Walker’s worklist is not inconsiderable: six symphonies (1956-68) of which only no. 1 is not in one movement, Symphonic Variations for orchestra (1955), A Distant Summer – Rhapsody for orchestra, concertos for horn, oboe and cello (2), various piano sonatas and four string quartets. Amongst his solo piano works is Martin Jones – His Toye (1989). His other works include Days To Remember: Three Pieces for Rock Band (1966) and a Meditation on the Death of Elvis Presley (1980). Op. 44. The Departure of The Queen Of Sheba (1981) might well reflect an inventive sense of humour.
His books have included studies of Elvis Presley, Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie and Madonna alongside Robert Simpson, Alun Hoddinott, Havergal Brian, Vyacheslav Artyomov and Mahler’s Das Lied Von Der Erde. He edited Eugene Goossens’ Cincinnati Interludes and is the author of Broadway to Hollywood: the Musical and the Cinema.
After years in the Army he joined CBS in 1970 rising through its hierarchy and becoming Director of Masterworks Marketing, Europe in Paris. In 1975 he moved to RCA as Head of Classical where he signed up James Galway. He was editor of Cis Amaral’s distinguished Music and Musicians but his music criticism informed many magazines and journals including the late-lamented International Record Review. He also appeared prominently in Bax’s centenary year on BBCTV’s Omnibus programme celebrating that neglected composer (6 Nov 1983).
I was pleased to hear Matthew-Walker’s Fantasy-Sonata: Hamlet (Piano Sonata No.3) Op.34 at last year’s British Piano Festival in the Birmingham Conservatoire. Mark Bebbington played this major piano sonata. The Shakespearean subject-matter suggests Liszt (or perhaps Searle) and the Fantasy-Sonata Scriabin or Medtner. Then you are reminded that it was written in 1980 for the Buxton Festival. In fact it turned out for much of its 18-minute duration to be quite tough. Written in the same year as his Meditation on the Death of Elvis Presley it has its beatific moments towards the end but otherwise seemed suitably freighted with dark portents. It reminded me from time to time of the Shostakovich Prelude and Fugues, yet with more modernistic, collage-like and less ingratiating tendencies. That said, it ends very movingly indeed. I’d certainly like to hear it again.
Back to the present disc which serves as a strong calling-card for the composer. My only quibble would be that we could have done with something of the composer’s orchestral creativity.
The Violin Sonata No. 2 is heard in what is clearly an extraordinary performance. Its exuberance is shared between the two instruments which stake out a skein of moods from a capricious “Lark Ascendant” to an ending in gambolling happiness. The audience applause is included. The idiom will test no-one’s patience.
The Sinfonia Solemnis reflects the composer’s interest in percussion. The notes tell us that seven percussionists are specified for his Symphony No. 4 and that he enjoys Loris Tjeknavorian’s Requiem for the Massacred. This work presents a wide palette of timbres and intricacy with some of it reminiscent of the sort of arcane mystery of Hovhaness’s orchestral scores. This aspect is underscored by deep impacts and chimes, xylophone flights of fancy and the sort of ‘ice palace’ awe found in the Eastern scores of Henry Cowell. Its last movement is the longest and most articulate and engaging. The work is dedicated to Alun Hoddinott.
The String Quartet No. 1 is dedicated to Edmund Rubbra. Matthew-Walker wrote it while commuting by train. There’s no obvious sentimentality in this writing which feels unyielding and intense. The abrasive second movement has the bustle of Bliss’s Conversations while its successor is thoughtful if not joyous. The finale glows, even dazzles. The highly skilled McCapra made the first recording of Malcolm Arnold’s two string quartets back in 1992 (Chandos CHAN9112).
The Sonata Magna is in a single movement and is recorded in an imposing cathedral acoustic. At times its slow evolutionary progressed recalled (strangely enough) a bubbling lava-lamp. Touching on the Dies Irae (14:00) it attains a certain nobility before a crashing pell-mell descent that reminded me of Messiaen and of Williamson in his Organ Symphony.
The two short Shakespeare songs are with the composer as accompanist. Yvonne Fuller’s assured enunciation keeps the words to the fore and her musicality gives the songs their best chance. They stand in the English lyric tradition: somewhat sing-song but enlivened by the piano’s icy stoniness and tinkling rush.
This is one of those discs the very miscellaneous nature of which might call to mind the American CRI composer profile anthology CDs. It’s a distinguished entry speaking for all but Matthew-Walker’s orchestral works. I hope that we will get to hear his symphonies and concertos.
Rob Barnett