Matthew Taylor: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 and Romanza for Strings



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Matthew and I met not long after the ESO announced the 21st Century Symphony Project, and the work he told me he wanted to write sounded like a thrilling addition to the Project. Hearing these two powerful new symphonies side by side, one can’t help but be struck by the ways in which they complement and contrast one another. They are clearly songs from the same voice, and speak the same musical language. Although the two works are fundamentally different in structure and emotional impact, one can still see interesting similarities in how Taylor approaches symphonic form, particularly in his telling, but very selective, use of cyclic structures.

The Fourth Symphony was written for a very large orchestra, the Fifth for a much smaller ensemble, using the same forces as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the other symphony heard at the concert in Cadogan Hall, London, where it was premiered by the English Symphony Orchestra in 2019. Stripped of percussion, harp and keyboards, the soundworld of the Fifth Symphony is more austere than that of the Fourth, but no less intense. And though the Fifth uses a string section about half the size of the Fourth, it is, in many ways, the more explosive, even violent, work.

Kenneth Woods





…The music opens explosively – the timpani are very prominent – and in a very extrovert frame of mind; the composer freely admits to "an attempt to create a Nielsenesque sweep" in these pages: I think he's succeeded. There's an abundance of rhythmic energy, which makes the music exhilarating to listen to…

…This is a most impressive and articulate symphony and its credentials are enhanced by a terrific performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, galvanised by Kenneth Woods.

…The movement's end is extraordinary. From 6:56 everything is dominated by hugely potent timpani and the movement ends with a dramatic solo for the drums with other instruments only permitted to join in the last sec chord. The ESO's timpanist, Emmanuel Joste is a force to be reckoned with at this point.

Taylor says that he had long wanted to end a symphony with an Adagio and he achieved his ambition in this symphony… This emphatic passage is short-lived, however; the drums die away, prefacing a much more tranquil passage in which the predominant feature is the sound of an elegiac quartet of cellos…The Fifth Symphony is impressive, inventive and eloquent. The recording was made just before Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra gave the first performance of the work and it's hard to imagine that Matthew Taylor could have received better advocacy for his new work.

…This was my first exposure to the music of Matthew Taylor. I was impressed. Here is a composer who definitely has something to say and who communicates very effectively and directly with his audience. The music is tonal but employs dissonance to excellent effect. The music is thoroughly convincing at all times and I was struck by the assurance with which Taylor writes for the orchestra. On this evidence, he has a fine ear for texture and colour.

I'm sure that the music's cause is helped greatly by the expert performances that are turned in by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the English Symphony Orchestra. Kenneth Woods is clearly committed to Taylor's music, as is evident from the strength of conviction in the performances and the attention to detail which allows the nuances of the scoring to come through.

Simon Fox-Gál was in charge of the engineering of these recordings and he's done a fine job; the sound has impact, good perspectives and fine detail. The documentation is ideal for the introduction of music that will be new to all but a handful of listeners. The booklet contains excellent and enthusiastic essays about the music by Kenneth Woods and by Matthew Taylor…

Music Web International – Classical Review

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