BBC Proms reviews of David Matthews's 'A Vision of the Sea'

BBC Proms reviews of David Matthews's 'A Vision of the Sea'
Hearing gulls swooped and cried, the tide swelled and ebbed, and the shimmering light of a bold new sunrise filled the Royal Albert Hall with the premiere of David’s Matthews’s new symphonic tone poem A Vision of the Sea. TheBBC Philharmonic and their principal conductor Junajo Mena were on finest form conjuring up flashes of exuberance and melodies dripping with lyricism. And the sea was never far away. ‘Most of the piece,’ writes Matthews, ‘was written at my house in Deal in Kent, where I am constantly aware of the sea. I have attempted to portray the sea in all its various moods, as I have observed them.’ 
The 20-minute piece was commissioned by the BBC and marks Matthews’ 70th birthday this year.

'a substantial and attractive work'
A Vision of the Sea is a substantial and attractive work inspired by the sights and sounds of the sea off the coast of Kent... As a younger man, Matthews was close to Benjamin Britten and he makes no secret of his enthusiasm for Debussy. Both these influences are palpable in the new work, though it is characteristic of Matthews’ style in its warm lyricism and sensuousness shot through with poignant rather than abrasive dissonance. Matthews is also a keen ornithologist, which gives the herring gull calls at the start of his piece a greater authenticity than those of Britten... Thereafter there’s powerfully evocative sea music that references Debussy to fine effect with colourful scoring, including bass clarinet and contrabassoon, not to mention the rainsticks suggesting the tug of the tide over shingle. If the concluding climactic sunrise is unexpected, it’s also something of an aural coup, featuring as it does “the sound of the sun”: scientifically recorded vibrations depicted in sustained string harmonics.’
Evening Standard (Barry Millington), 17 July 2013
‘made a big impact’
‘On its first outing, David Matthews’s A Vision of the Sea made a big impact. Impressively scored… this 22-minute symphonic poem is engaging on a purely musical level as well as a suggestive one. From its mysterious opening to a conclusion that seeks no easy resolution, leaving the listener with the impression that dangers remain lurking in the depths, Matthews has filled his score with much engaging invention, sometimes with a nod (intended or otherwise) to Ralph Vaughan Williams; whether subtle and evocative, richly melodic, pictorial (including the onomatopoeia of gulls), or tempestuous, so lucid is its design that A Vision of the Sea could be described as a ‘symphony in one movement’; the trill-encrusted climax was thrilling.’
Classical Source (Colin Anderson), 17 July 2013
'It is all skilfully, lightly done….'
‘You can certainly see the ocean when you listen to David Matthews's A Vision of the Sea… Waltzing strings conjure up glittering spray, rainsticks evoke waves sucking back the sand, and the woodwind imitate seagulls. It is all skilfully, lightly done…. In the final sunrise the piece shows its teeth – and the nature quote is even more direct. Matthews refers to the discovery that magnetic loops in the sun's atmosphere vibrate rather like the strings of a violin; his sun rises on two of the actual recorded pitches’
The Guardian (Erica Jeal), 17 July 2013
'ravishingly coloured'
‘…ravishingly coloured performance of David Matthews’ new tone poem A Vision of the Sea... Lasting about 20 minutes, the piece resembles an aural watercolour – woodwinds evoking gull cries, brass forecasting storm-squalls, percussion percolating into stillness – in which mood is paramount and orchestration is king.’
Financial Times (Andrew Clark), 17 July 2013
'Matthews has a lyricist's ear'
‘Matthews has a lyricist's ear, and the piece, a portrait of the Kentish coast, was filled with the sounds of rain, the swell of the sea, the cry of herring gulls, the rumble of shingle. It brought out the affinity between air and water, and the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Juanjo Mena, played with sensitive equilibrium. The beauty of it was its self-possessed unity, allowing the sea to be itself, with no histrionic storms. Anchored in tradition and referring to Debussy, it also had radical drama in ingeniously reproducing the sound of two pitches on which the sun, according to scientists, is said to rise.’
The Observer (Kate Kellaway), 21 July 2013

'Matthews’s music...has a satisfying beauty of its own.’
‘David Matthews’s A Vision of the Sea, is gorgeous in its haziest moments, when gauzy sonorities trip alongside throbbing string motifs and the soft shimmer of the rainstick. Matthews’s music, which sits defiantly outside of contemporary trends… has a satisfying beauty of its own.’
The Times (Neil Fisher), 18 July 2013


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