Proms premiere – Colin Matthews: String Quartet no.5


String Quartet no.5 by Colin Matthews

Apollon Musagète Quartet (Paweł Zalejski & Bartosz Zachłod (violins), Piotr Szumieł (viola) & Piotr Skweres (cello)) (Proms Chamber Music 3)

Duration: 12 minutes

BBC iPlayer link (Matthews begins talking at 13:19, then the piece at 15:34 and ends at 27:36)

What’s the story behind the piece?

In conversation with Petroc Trelawny before the performance, Matthews reveals that his string quartet rate of composition has been approximately one every ten years, but that the gap is now narrowing.

This work was written for the 75th anniversary of the Tanglewood Festival and is conceived in a single movement. “I wanted to do something very different from the others”, he says, and the silences are a starting point. “The work begins very hesitantly”, he explains, and works up to only one big climax.

Did you know?

Colin Matthews worked as Britten’s assistant in the last few years of his life, and was essentially his right hand man for proof reading and even composition. You can read an interview about his exploits here

Initial verdict

It is possible to detect the hand of a mature composer at work here. So many new pieces rely on shock tactics and volume to make themselves heard, but Colin Matthews shuns all of that with an economic approach that actually brings forward greater emotion.

The faltering start from the quartet, together, becomes a distinctive motif that runs through the piece, and although the music does indeed build and get to a more secure footing, it never fully shakes off the uneasy start from the muted quartet. It is at times reminiscent of a Bartók quartet slow movement, or even Britten, in the intensity of its expression, though it never fully sounds like those composers. The Fifth Quartet says a lot in a relatively short duration, convincing in spite of its emotional doubt, as it retreats into the shadows at the end.

Second hearing


Where can I hear more?

Colin has a BBC page devoted to him here

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