Seascapes, a new work for soprano and nine players, received its long-awaited premiere at Wigmore Hall this week, with Geoffrey Paterson conducting the Nash Ensemble and soprano Claire Booth. The concert, which also included Julian Anderson’s viola and violin solos Prayer and Another Prayer, as well as a new Mark Anthony Turnage work dedicated to the memory of Oliver Knussen is available to stream here. The 13-minute work – commissioned by Britten Pears Arts and the Nash Ensemble supported by Dr Shirley Ellis – sets four poems by Sidney Keyes, a remarkable writer who was killed in action in 1943 at the age of just twenty.
“Seascapes was cast in an interestingly ambiguous, not-quite-pastoral idiom. It caught the feelings of its text, poems by Sidney Keyes that evoked surging seas and estuaries at night, while also being troubled by premonitions of calamity, or memories of history.”
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 28 April 2021
All but one of the poems Matthews sets were written in the last year of Keyes’ life, after he had enlisted but before he saw active service, and they are pervaded by a dark, foreboding mood. ‘Keyes is probably best known through Tippett’s settings of The Heart’s Assurance and Remember Your Lovers,’ remarks Matthews, ‘but his Collected Poems (a volume of little more than 100 pages) reveal a remarkably sophisticated perspective, heavily influenced by Rilke and Yeats but demonstrating an exceptional, individual voice, brutally cut short. Vita Sackville-West wrote of “the astonishing maturity of his mind, the intense seriousness of his outlook, and his innate pre-occupation with major things”.’