Steph Power
BBC Music Magazine
March 2020

Born in 1943, David Matthews started composing aged 16 upon discovering a particular love of orchestral music. Nine symphonies and many other works later, he remains committed to what he’s described as ‘rich traditional forms’ filtered through early 20th-century modernism, Britten, Tippett and a tonality ‘grounded in song and dance’.

The two pieces at the heart of this release date from 2013, Matthews’s 60th year. They and the two shorter works reveal him at the height of his powers in both abstract and programmatic writing. Each is played with a winning combination of broad melodic sweep and finely observed detail by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Jac van Steen.

That sense of complementary opposites arises naturally in both the Symphony No. 8 and the symphonic poem A Vision of the Sea, where Matthews eschews emotional extremes for a discursiveness that never threatens conflict or darkness—nor even disquiet—yet avoids flatness through sheer invention. The bouncy frolic of the symphony’s third movement initially surprises after the poignancy of the second, memorialising composer Norman Worrall. But the work’s overall cohesion—from deep Sibelian rumbles to lush, dissonant chords and bubbling polyphony—ensures the listener is never far from home.

Likewise the symphonic poem explores a sea salty with incipient storm, viewed from the shelter of the Kent coast. While its dawn is a re-evocation of Toward Sunrise—shimmering with a slow-burning, eventually radiant fire—Sinfonia summons the spirit of an overture in bright textures and driving timpani.