Symphony no.4 Op.54 (2015-6)
Symphony no.5 Op.59 (2017-8)
Romanza for strings Op.36a (2006-7)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales (Symphonies), English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods
Nimbus Alliance NI6406 [63’56”]
Producer Simon Fox-Gál
Engineers Simon Smith, Mike Cox (Symphony no.4)
Recorded 8 June 2019 at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, London (Romanza); 14 January 2020 at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff (Symphonies)
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
A new release of music by Matthew Taylor, including the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, that means all of the composer’s works in this genre have now been commercially recorded (the First and Third on Dutton Epoch CDLX7178; the Second on Toccata Classics TOCC0175).
What’s the music like?
Symphonism goes back almost to the start of Taylor’s composing, his Sinfonia Brevis having been finished when he was 21, and symphonies have continued to appear at regular intervals across his output. Written respectively to mark the 50th anniversary of Kensington Symphony Orchestra, and as the third instalment within the English Symphony Orchestra’s 21st Century Symphony Project, these two pieces feel typical not least as regards their absolute contrasts of form and expression; while being equally unmistakable as the music of just one composer.
An in memoriam to composer John McCabe – dedicated to his widow Monica – the Fourth Symphony falls into three continuous movements. The first, marked Giubiloso, maintains its energy across distinct shifts of dynamics and activity (the evocative writing for woodwind and harp redolent of Tippett); subsiding from its impassioned climax into an Adagio where strings take the foreground in music of textural richness and emotional depth. Beginning at a decided remove from what has gone before, the Finale buffa exudes a nonchalant humour (reminiscent of Arnold), complemented by a deftly scored episode that cannily prepares for the denouement. This is purposefully controlled through to a climax that recalls the work’s opening theme before an ending as feels the more decisive for its literally coming to a halt.
Heard as an interlude between two imposing statements, the Romanza could hardly be better placed. An arrangement of the second movement of Taylor’s Sixth Quartet (Toccata Classics TOCC0144), it testifies to the suffused lyricism evident in this composer’s writing for strings.
The Fifth Symphony is only Taylor’s second such work in four movements, but its formal and expressive emphasis differs greatly. Indeed, the initial Allegro is unprecedented in his output for sheer volatility (not unlike that of Beethoven’s ‘Serioso’ Quartet), its driving impetus and explosive culmination creating a momentum which is pointedly left unfulfilled by the ensuing intermezzo-like Allegrettos. The first (a tribute to composer and teacher Cy Lloyd) is as terse and equivocal as the second (a tribute to Angela Simpson, wife of composer Robert Simpson) is poised and wistful. It thus remains for the final Adagio (a tribute to the composer’s mother Brigid) to secure that eloquent apotheosis towards which the whole work had been headed, as this moves with sustained power toward its plangent twin climaxes then on to a resigned coda.
Does it all work?
Indeed. In all three pieces, Kenneth Woods secures a dedicated response from the players so Taylor’s exacting yet practicable writing is heard to advantage, not least in acoustics whose immediacy emphasizes this music’s rapt inwardness as keenly as its untrammelled energy.
Is it recommended?
Yes, and not least for a booklet that features informative commentaries by both composer and conductor, and striking artwork by Andrea Kelland. An introductory portrait by James Francis Brown mentions Taylor as having written six symphonies: hopefully, no mere slip of the pen!
Listen & Buy
You can listen to clips from the recording and purchase, either in physical or digital form, at the Presto website
You can discover more about Matthew Taylor by heading to his own website