"Riveting... a brilliantly conceived score by Matthews, who has Britten’s gift for conjuring hugely varied sound worlds from a handful of players." The Telegraph
In July 2021, the Three Choirs Festival presented a rare performance of Matthews’ narrative for baritone and ensemble The Great Journey. Marcus Farnsworth joined the Goldfield Ensemble and conductor Adrian Partington.
Based around the story of the conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who between 1527 and 1536 was lost in the interior of Central America, much of the work is communicated through dramatic recitative. The piece is laced with evocative fragments of sixteenth-century music, which Matthews deftly weaves into the sonic fabric.
“The Great Journey was riveting… a brilliantly conceived score by Matthews, who has Britten’s gift for conjuring hugely varied sound worlds from a handful of players. It was hard to believe the same group of musicians who’d just charmed our ears were making these extraordinarily sinister sounds, sometimes suggestive of panic during an attack, sometimes evoking tropical heat prolonged over weeks or years… Into this dank, heart-of-darkness world Matthews would often insert a distorted memory of Spanish Renaissance music, an evocation of “enlightened” Christianity that seemed more and more ironic as the nobleman’s disillusionment at the cruelty of the conquistadors increased. Farnsworth sang the hugely taxing solo part with sensitive fortitude and wonderfully clear diction, so one never lost the thread of the story. Matthews’s piece may be more than 30 years old, but in an era that’s newly sensitised to the horrors of colonialism it has never seemed more urgently relevant.”
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 26 July 2021
This bold and dramatic work – around 50 minutes in total – remains one of Matthews’ most substantial statements. It is almost 25 years since it was last performed in its entirety, although Fuga, a thrilling instrumental version of the third part, is regularly programmed.