In November Nicolas Altstaedt gives two performances of Dark Pastoral, David Matthews’ realisation of Vaughan Williams’ unfinished cello concerto. He presents the piece with Andrew Manze and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on 19 November, and then its Finnish premiere with the Tapiola Sinfonietta at the Nature Festival in Espoo on 23 November, with Altstaedt directing from the cello.
Like Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No.3, Dark Pastoral evokes an elegiac landscape. It premiered at the 2010 Proms from the BBC Concert Orchestra, Paul Daniel and Steven Isserlis, who also premiered Matthews’ Concerto in Azzurro in 2002. For the 11-minute piece Matthews orchestrated four minutes of Vaughan Williams’ surviving short score, which ends just as the music begins to tread a new path. Matthews based the rest on this first section, as well as creating new material for the middle, whose mood is increasingly tumultuous and searching, before finally subsiding in a resigned coda. In 2014 Matthews also created a version of Dark Pastoral for viola and chamber orchestra – it is also available in versions for cello or viola with piano accompaniment. It was recorded by Dai Miyata and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 2019, with Thomas Dausgaard conducting.
Dark Pastoral was performed earlier this year by BBC New Generation Artist Santiago Cañón-Valencia with the Ulster Orchestra and Jac van Steen. It is one of several works that reflect Matthews’ deep fascination with Vaughan Williams’ music, which he has explored in different ways as a composer. In 2016 Matthews composed Norfolk March for orchestra, a reconstruction of the lost Third Norfolk Rhapsody by Vaughan Williams (2006). Its treatment of four folksongs follows the style of the composer (and Percy Grainger), but in acknowledgement of the World War One centenary that takes a darker and more elegiac turn in Matthews’ hands.
Matthews’ Symphony No.6 (2005), which premiered at the BBC Proms with Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, incorporates music from an earlier project for the Three Choirs Festival in which Matthews composed a variation on music by Vaughan Williams; it is also testament to his love for the composer’s Pastoral Symphony. In 2022 Matthews orchestrated Vaughan Williams’ 1923 violin and piano work Romance and Pastorale for solo violin and small orchestra, using the same forces as The Lark Ascending – it received its first performance from Britten Sinfonia and Alexander Sitkovetsky at Charterhouse School.