On 5 July the Kreutzer Quartet release the sixth instalment in their multi-volume project to record David Matthews’ complete string quartets – a release that marks nearly 30 years of collaboration between composer and ensemble.

The disc, released on Toccata Classics, features Matthews’ String Quartet No.17 – his latest, premiered by the Kreutzer Quartet in June 2023 at the Aldeburgh Festival – as well as his Eighth and Sixteenth forays into the medium. The disc also features Matthews’ arrangement of the Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, No.24 from Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavier. Listen to a preview of the recording here

The 17-minute piece is Matthews’ sixth piece for the Kreutzers, having previously premiered his 10th, 12th, 13th, and 14th, and 15th Quartets. Cast in a traditional four-movement shape, it opens with a flamboyant introductory gesture from each instrument in turn, inaugurating a short sonata-form movement. A second-movement scherzo is played pizzicato throughout, whilst the B-flat minor slow movement, quiet and contemplative in mood, has a plangent theme that recalls Matthews’ 12th quartet.

The final movement was inspired by a dream featuring the music of Benjamin Britten. He writes,

I was sitting at a rather beautiful upright piano with a vocal score of Billy Budd: I had just attended a rehearsal, but the music I heard wasn’t Britten’s, neither was the vocal score’s. I played five andante bars, then woke up and found I could remember what I had played exactly, so wrote it down and decided I could use it for the opening of my finale.

String Quartet No.16 was dedicated to Matthews’ friend Hugh Wood, who passed away in August 2021. Like his 1st, 3rd, and 14th quartets, the 12-minute piece is cast in a single movement comprising three distinct sections. It draws on a melodic motif from Wood’s string trio Ithaka, his last completed work.

The quartet opens with an Andante with an undulating theme on the viola, extended by the violin before a miniature chorale, followed by a more rapid development before the Andante returns. A change of pace and mood comes with an A major scherzo of boisterous triplets. Birdsong is at the centre of the slow, expressive conclusion - a robin notated by Matthews, which was the only bird singing in the winter of 2021 he composed the piece.

His eighth quartet was written as a 40th birthday present for Czech composer Pavel Novák, to whom it is dedicated; the final movement also serves as a tribute to composer Berthold Goldschmidt, who died in 1996. The 18-minute piece is cast in three movements, with the first drawing on a Welsh folk song, recalling Matthews’ connection to Welsh borders, and the last a slow, tranquil fugue.