David. Matthews New
Music for Solo Violin, Volume 1.
Winter Journey, Op. 32. Three Studies,
Op. 39. 15 Fugues, Op. 88.
Peter Sheppard Skaerved (violin).
Toccata Classics TOCC0152 (full price, 1 hour 2 minutes). Website www.toccataclassics.com
Producer Peter Sheppard Skaerved. Engineer Jonathan
Haskell. Dates August 17th and 18th, 2010.
Comparison: Three Studies/Fugue No. 10: Sheppard Skaerved (Metier) MSVCD92028 (2000)
Toccata Classics continues its valuable coverage of David Matthews with the first installment of his music for solo violin – a medium for which his contribution is second to none among composers of his generation, and which itself is dominated by probably the most extensive and surely the most impressive series of unaccompanied fugues from any post-war figure. That said, these 15 Fugues came together gradually and almost coincidentally – Matthews recounting how what became the tenth in the overall sequence was written as a challenge for Peter Sheppard Skaerved in 1998 that the latter not only met with ease but whose encouragement led to this cycle, otherwise written during 2001-02, which juxtaposes the most ‘practical’ major and minor keys in an absorbing succession of expressive contrasts. Thus the forthright initial ‘Maestoso’ is followed by a tonally fluid ‘Scorrevole’,then by a warmly pastoral ‘Moderato con moto’ before an inwardly musing ‘Lento’ precedes a vividly rhetorical ‘Allegro festivo’. The sixth fugue is a ‘Molto moderato’ in stealthy pizzicato, while its successors are a blackbird-pervaded ‘Con fantasia’ and a harmonically questing ‘Allegro sostenuto’, followed in turn by a wistful ‘Allegretto’, then the trenchant ‘Largo’ which gave rise to the whole conception. The eleventh fugue is a highly evocative ‘Andante con moto’, complemented by a searching ‘Lento serioso’,then a darting tremolo ‘Allegro’ and an almost whimsical ‘Andante’, before the sequence ends with a resolute ‘Molto moderato’. Each of these studies would make for a rewarding encore, though the fact that they are best experienced as a cumulative whole only underlines the skill with which Matthews has fashioned them into an integral cycle which instructs and entertains in equal measure. The remaining two pieces are no less characteristic of their composer’s writing for solo violin. The Three Studies (1985) was written for the 1986 Carl Flesch International Violin Competition and accordingly sets a stern test of the exponent’s technical skill – ranging from the eloquent rhetoric of the initial ‘Allegro appassionato’, via a variationlike scherzo marked ‘Vivo e fantastico’, to a final study that progresses from a fragmentary ‘Lento’ to a propulsive ‘Allegro’. This is display music pure if not so simple, whereas Winter Journey (1982) is now revealed as among the most searching of Matthews’s earlier works. Taking its title (and framed by two quotations) from Schubert’s song cycle, it unfolds as a single entity whose 11 continuous sections do not provide a summary of the work which inspired it so much as paraphrasing its various moods according to a tonal trajectory that elides poignantly between the governing D and D minor, with the deft ambiguity of the final section confirming a mastery of tonal means toward powerfully expressive ends.
Throughout the disc, Sheppard Skaerved plays with an accomplishment and insight that explain why Matthews should have been encouraged to write extensively for solo violin. Comparing his earlier recordings of the Three Studies and the Tenth Fugue (heard as part of an enterprising miscellany) suggests he is now delving further into the music’s emotional range as opposed merely to conveying its technical finesse. The sound makes the most of the spacious acoustic of Aldbury Parish Church, while the booklet includes both the composer’s succinct notes and the performer’s detailed commentary – this latter being best read after making the acquaintance of some impressive music.