Britten/Purcell and David Matthews CDs reviewed


BRITTEN / PURCELL: Doric Quartet (Chandos 2CDs CHAN 20124-2) ★★★★★

Britten's three string quartets are just too long to squeeze onto a single CD so here a second disc accommodates the composer's youthful Three Divertimenti. It can only have been musical snobbery that produced the scathing response at their premiere in 1936; the Dorics bring out their charm and insouciance quite engagingly. They also include three Fantasias in Four Parts by Purcell whose music influenced Britten. His Second Quartet marked the 250th anniversary of Purcell's birth, while the Third Quartet's finale used the passacaglia form integral to the 17th century composer's music. The Doric Quartet's playing is superb throughout whether conveying the tender melancholy of the First Quartet's Andante calmo, with expressive playing from first violin Alex Redington, to the often acerbic and thorny Third Quartet. The playing quality is matched by the recording's excellent sound, captured by producer-engineer Jonathan Cooper at Britten's musical home, The Maltings, Snape. Highly recommended.

MATTHEWS: Trickey / Bradley / ESO / Woods (Nimbus Alliance NI 6382) ★★★★★

Reviewing the premiere of David Matthews' Ninth Symphony last year a colleague was surprised by the cheerful tunefulness of its fourth movement, thinking "he'll never get away with this" – since symphonies like this one don't appeal to the arts coterie who commission and programme contemporary music. Matthews, now in his 70s, carries on regardless and given the chance, many music lovers would embrace this melodic, vigorous and engaging work. Congratulations then to conductor Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra's "21st Century Symphony Project" for that performance and this recording. Woods conducts the English String Orchestra in Matthews' Variations for Strings, illuminated by guest leader Stephen Bryant's solo in the fifth variation. Sara Trickey and Sarah-Jane Bradley are the soloists in the Double Concerto for Violin and Viola, a delightful piece of concertante team-work with a rhapsodic central movement – a sort of two larks ascending – and a jolly dancing finale.

Norman Stinchcombe

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