This year’s Presteigne Festival in Wales sees a special focus on the music of David Matthews, including two world premieres. On 27 August Nicholas Daniel and Huw Watkins perform Matthews’ Oboe Sonata, commissioned by Nicholas Daniel and the Presteigne Festival, and on 30 August Tim Horton presents A Fugue for Hugh for solo piano.
Its first two movements of the Oboe Sonata were commissioned and performed in 2020 by the Leicester International Music Festival. The 20-minute piece uses a five-movement form, like Matthews’ 4th and 9th Symphonies, with two scherzos surrounding a central slow movement, which quotes an aria from Matthews’ opera Anna. The first movement plays to the oboe’s pastoral character, and draws on the sound of the Song Thrush, Matthews’ favourite bird. The following scherzo has a bluesy trio, much like that of Matthews’ 1990 Oboe Concerto. The rondo finale, featuring a cadenza for oboe that recalls earlier material, ends by quoting Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, and playfully concluding the piece a tone higher than Mozart, on a top G.
Matthews has a longstanding musical relationship with Nicholas Daniel, who has commissioned and premiered a host of pieces from the composer. Daniel says of Matthews’ work,
David’s music has always been beautifully made. There is a wonderful warmth and pleasing lack of artifice and pretension in it that speaks clearly to me and to the many other musicians who love his music, as well as to his audiences. He is not, however, afraid to experiment, and his music has tremendous energy when it builds to a head. Just in the music for oboe you can find a Montana Taylor Blues in his Oboe Concerto, a Raga Battle in The Flaying of Marsyas, and most recently a fast Tango in the Oboe Sonata.
On 30 August Tim Horton gives the world premiere of A Fugue for Hugh, a 2½ minute work for piano composed at the request of Presteigne’s director George Vass as a memorial for their friend composer Hugh Wood, who passed away in 2021. It is collected alongside Matthews’ 12 Fugues (2019-2020), a collection of short piano pieces commemorating birthdays, anniversaries and departed friends. Matthews’ tribute to Wood – “in every respect an exceptional person” – is bookended by a quotation from Wood’s last work, his string trio Ithika.
The Festival will also see a performance of Matthews’ Piano Trio No.2 on 26 August from the Leonore Piano Trio, who has previously recorded Matthews’ complete piano trios. Gramophone described the slow movement of the 20-minute work, a memorial to his long-time companion Maggie Hemingway, as “almost Schubertian in its cumulative poignancy”.