Concert review: Messiah thrills at Malvern Priory

Handel’s Messiah is a musical edifice of religious exegesis, built from notes and faith; so where better to hear a full rendition than Malvern Priory?

After all, the Priory is also a testament to rock-solid belief, and it was already 600 years old by the time of Handel. Both Handel and the Priory’s medieval builders, however, were secure in their beliefs. The building and the work complement each other; but how far can the work travel in a more secular age? Pretty far, is the answer, judging by the response of the audience and thanks, in no small part, to the excellence of the English Symphony Orchestra, the Academia Musica choir and the soloists.

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American Record Guide on David Matthews Symphony No. 9

David Matthews’s music is neo-tonal and unmistakably British. It is immaculately crafted and fresh, the composer having rejected the modernism he grew up with, replacing it with a postmodern language of sincerity and musicality.
His Symphony 9 (2016) is based on a simple tune by his wife, which introduces the proceedings and is then fragmented and developed. II is a wild scherzo, III a lyrical slow movement with beautiful harmonic vision; bird song appears about halfway through. IV is a dance, which leads to V’s dreamy haze, followed by development of fragments of the tune, stormy drama, a transcendent return of the tune, and eventual triumph. This is entirely convincing and should please anyone interested in recent British symphonic writing.

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Fanfare Magazine on Matthews Symphony No. 9

David Matthews (b. 1943) and his older brother Colin, also a composer, were assistants to Benjamin Britten during the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was unsure of the chronology, but David wrote to me via email, “Colin took over from me as Britten’s assistant in 1970 after I’d done the job for four years and Britten thought Colin—who had helped me with the Owen Wingrave full score—should now have his chance. Colin then worked for him until he died. I didn’t give up working for Britten, altogether as a few years later I helped him with the revised score for Paul Bunyan. Britten once asked my mother, ‘Are there any more of you?’” Since then, Matthews has produced a vast body of work in traditional forms, particularly a series of 14 string quartets and as of now nine symphonies, most of which have been recorded.

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CD review – Musical Opinion on Brahms Piano Quartet no. 2 orch. Kenneth Woods

From the Summer 2019 issue of Musical Opinion Quarterly, a new five-star review from Guy Rickards:
There are a number of orchestrations of Brahms piano or chamber works, most notably (perhaps) Rubbra’s of the Handel Variations, Op 24, made in 1938, and Schoenberg’s of the Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor, Op 25, from the previous year. Now the trinity of 1861 masterpieces is completed by conductor, cellist and occasional composer Kenneth Woods’ arrangement of the Piano Quartet No 2 in A, Op 26. I have never been entirely convinced by Schoenberg’s reworking (the use of a xylophone not least), preferring the original at all points. Rubbra’s arrangement has been criticised for being too heavily scored—something that has been levelled at his contemporaneous First Symphony—but I have found it a more involving listen than Schoenberg’s.

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