On 9 December Roderick Williams joined the Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall for David Matthews’ Six Songs, a 2005 arrangement of Brahms’ lieder for medium voice and a chamber ensemble of flute (doubling piccolo), clarinet, bassoon, horn, and string quartet with double bass.

The 20-minute piece draws together lieder from across Brahms’ extensive output in the genre. The set begins with ‘Vergebliches Ständchen’, a playful dialogue between a suitor and the reluctant object of his affection; in ‘An die Nachtigall’ the singer spurns the birdsong that inspires only longing and despair, with an ethereal piccolo in the accompaniment. ‘Alte Liebe’, a gloomy recollection of lost love, is cast for voice and strings alone. In ‘Botschaft’, the concluding song, Matthews gives bassoon, flute and clarinet a lilting accompanying figure that carries the singer’s message on the wind to his beloved, ending in a brighter B-flat major.

When it comes to transcription, Matthews is an elegantly imaginative thinker…with a sensitivity for sonority, colouring and pointing that penetrates the essence of the originals with enough individual signature to lift the page beyond anything routine. 

Classical Source (Ateş Orga), 8 December 2018

Williams previously performed the arrangements with Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall in December 2018, with the ensemble directed by Martyn Brabbins; the group premiered the arrangement in 2006 at the same venue with baritone Wolfgang Holzmair. Matthews’ other arrangements of Brahms’ music include the Vier Ernste Gesänge for baritone and strings, which were premiered by Thomas Hampson and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta in 2014 at the Forum am Schlosspark, Ludwigsburg. In 1987 Matthews arranged the Andante from the String Sextet in B-flat for string orchestra, whose premiere was conducted by his great friend Carl Davis (1936-2023) and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Matthews and Nash Ensemble have been longstanding collaborators, giving numerous premieres of his work – including several cycles for voice and ensemble, showcased on their Winter Passions disc (2010). It includes the titular Pushkin settings (1999) for baritone Stephan Loges and clarinet, string trio and piano, and his brooding setting of T.S. Eliot Marina (1988), also featuring Loges. Terrible Beauty (2006) for mezzo-soprano and seven instruments sees Susan Bickley sings extracts from Homer’s Iliad and Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra; the disc also features Matthews’ two String Trios and Clarinet Quartet.