No, not the American pop performer Dave Matthews, founder and leader of the Dave Matthews Band. This is English composer David Matthews (b. 1943), known for his many orchestral, chamber, vocal, and piano works. Although, for that matter, conductor Kenneth Woods could probably do a great job conducting symphonic arrangements of Dave Matthews pieces, too; he seems fully capable of making anything sound good.
Whatever, David Matthews, like fellow British composer Philip Sawyers (another musician Maestro Woods has been recording lately) has the temerity to utilize things like melody, lyricism, and tonal harmony in his music, thereby flying in the face of much modern music and helping not only classical connoisseurs to enjoy it but everyday folks like me to appreciate it as well. In fact, speaking of the symphony here, Matthews says it began as a simple carol for his wife. "One day," he writes, "I was playing it on the piano and, beginning to improvise, I thought "I can turn this into something bigger, and why not a symphony?'" Thus began a journey into his Ninth Symphony.
The program begins, then, with the Symphony No. 9, Opus. 140, which he completed in 2016. It's not a very big symphony, nothing like Beethoven's, Schubert's, Bruckner's, or Mahler's. Instead, it's little more compact and a little less expansive. That is not to say it isn't large, however. The work is in five movements, a central slow movement reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, surrounded by two quick scherzos and bookended by an intriguing opening allegro and capped by a triumphant finale.
Next, we get Matthews's Variations for Strings, Opus. 40, written in 1986, based on Bach's "Die Nacht ist kommen" ("Night's darkness falleth"). The words are a "prayer for a peaceful night," so one might expect peaceful music, and for the most part it is. Maybe surprisingly, there are a number of jazz inflections throughout the piece, as well as contrasting pulses and rhythms. It's quite charming and original, actually.
The disc closes with Matthews's Double Concerto for violin, viola and strings, Op. 122, from 2013. The two soloists have a remarkably friendly rivalry in exchanges throughout the work, making it a delight in the hands of two such gifted musicians as Sara Trickey on violin and Sarah-Jane Bradley on viola. Maestro Woods and his string orchestra pretty much let them have full rein and do their best to just stay out of the way. Seriously, it's a terrific effort and became my favorite piece on the disc.
Producer and engineer Simon Fox-Gal recorded the symphony in May 2018 at St. George's, Bristol; and producer and engineer Philip Rowlands recorded the variations and double concerto in October 2018 at The Priory Church, Great Malvern. The first thing noticeable in the sound of the full orchestra is its spatial characteristics. It's not just nicely spread out across the speakers but nicely arranged front to back, with a good sense of ambient bloom from the acoustic. Then, too, the frequency response is wide, the dynamics realistic, the detailing sharply delineated, and the whole affair entirely lifelike. The string music, employing far fewer players, is understandably lighter and more transparent, and it appears a bit closer. Whatever, it's all good, enjoyable sound.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: