COLIN MATTHEWS (b.1946): Aftertones for Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra, No Man's Land for Tenor, Baritone and Orchestra, Crossing the Alps for Unaccompanied Chorus (Richard Wilberforce; conductor).
Catalogue Number: 02Q067
Reference: HLL 7538
Description: Two major scores, bringing out the very best of Matthews' powerful, dynamic idiom, propelled in equal parts by harmonic and rhythmic momentum. Aftertones and No Man's Land both deal with the subject of the First World War, from different but complementary perspectives. Aftertones sets poems of Edmund Blunden, less harrowing than Owen, less bitter than Sassoon, but immensely powerful in their juxtaposition of apocalyptic war-visions and reminiscence of pastoral innocence, suffused with melancholy and resignation. Matthews matches this with massive choral and orchestral effects and achingly sad elegiac lyricism, with masterly handling of the transitions between the two, the storm-clouds of war gathering and breaking over the sunlit landscape in a moment. Comparisons of both works with the War Requiem are inevitable, and not inappropriate, but they only go so far. Matthews' harmonic language is not so very far from Britten's, and in no work does either composer come close to abandoning tonality, though Matthews' idiom is more routinely dissonant. No Man's Land is a dramatic dialogue between two soldiers, its obvious antecedent being Wilfred Owen's emotionally devastating 'Strange Meeting', though here we hear the voices of ghosts of a captain and sergeant on the same side, their skeletons hanging on the barbed wire, in a text especially written for the work by Christopher Reid. The captain is reflective and earnest in his descriptions of the horrors that led to their fate; the sergeant earthier, with a kind of cockney bravado and matter-of-factness; he is given a more vernacular style of music to match, including the accompaniment of an out-of-tune upright piano like the one in the tavern scene in Wozzeck, and recorded march-music on a period gramophone, while Matthews' wonderfully descriptive orchestral tapestry conjures atmosphere and context with well-nigh cinematic vividness. Texts included. Ian Bostridge (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), Hallé Choir, Hallé; Nicholas Collon.