David Matthews’ latest symphony was premiered in Manchester on 17 April by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by its dedicatee, HK Gruber. Cast in three movements, like the Sixth Symphony, this 26-minute work has at its heart a mournful Andante featuring a fugue – a form Matthews is obsessed by. Writing about his new work, the composer observes:
‘While I no longer feel the need to defend my use of tonality, since it seems obvious now that non-tonal music has not replaced it, perhaps I should say something about my light-hearted finale, with its use of melodic ideas that some might think naive. Of course I’m aware that I’m going very much against the zeitgeist, and that most major art today is pessimistic in tone – which, given the state of the world, is hardly surprising. Yet, shouldn’t it still be possible to express feelings of delight, love of life, elation? They will inevitably be mingled with other, darker moods. But if we cannot contrast one with the other, then surely we are not fully human.’
Matthews' Eighth Symphony can be heard online here
‘David Matthews didn’t think he’d be writing any more symphonies. But the BBC Philharmonic liked his 2013 Proms piece, A Vision of the Sea, so much that they twisted his arm for an Eighth Symphony. Not that it took much twisting. There’s a tang of sea here, too: at the end of the heady dances of the finale, there’s a tingling downward glissando on the violins, inspired by vapour trails in the sky over Deal, in Kent. This is where a friend of Matthews lived and died – and that remembered sorrow darkens the symphony’s slow movement, giving weight and depth to its otherwise euphonious sweet song. The entire symphony, with its confident, upbeat opening, its striding rhythms, its lush lyricism and its effortless yet highly accomplished invention, sounds as though it was a joy to write – and with the intention of giving great delight to its players and listeners.’
The Times (Hilary Finch), 20 April 2015
‘It will come as no surprise to his admirers that David Matthews has continued with his symphonic odyssey, the Eighth Symphony (2014) both continuing on from its predecessor as well as opening-up new lines of enquiry which will no doubt be pursued in due course. As with the Sixth in his cycle, Matthews has adopted a three-movement format, albeit with audibly greater expressive follow-through between them. Thus the first movement encloses its tensile and pugnacious sonata Allegro within the framework of an Andante whose initial circumspection becomes altogether more expansive and searching on its reappearance. The central Adagio is of an elegiac cast befitting its intention as a memorial (to the composer Norman Worrall), given added intensity through the fugue that gradually emerges in the strings to take the music up to a heightened recall of its main idea, and while the finale might seem intent on dispelling such solemnity, this sequence of “dance variations” takes on more-ambiguous qualities as it moves toward a close of almost teasing understatement. The Eighth Symphony received an assured premiere from the BBC Philharmonic (heard to advantage in the spacious yet focussed acoustic of Bridgewater Hall) under the guidance of HK Gruber, who clearly relished the poised ambivalence of the outer movements in particular. Perhaps a degree more cumulative momentum would have been to the benefit of the finale, though such restraint was arguably in accord with music which is appreciably more than the sum of its parts – as further performances of this intriguing work will doubtless convey.’
Classical Source (Richard Whitehouse), 18 April 2015