Symphony No. 1 – Fanfare Magazine

MATTHEWS Out of the Earth.1 Symphony No. 1; Virko Baley, cond; Therese Costes (sop); Kiev Camerata; TNC CD-1415 (65:21 )

This disc is my introduction to Canadian composer Michael Matthews (b. 1950). His harmonic idiom has much in common with the later works of Peter Maxwell Davies, particularly in pieces like his long and powerful second and third symphonies, with which Matthews’s Symphony No. 1 (1996–97) has a good deal in common. Tonally based, the harmony is quite dissonant. The melodic aspect has a French quality (the scherzo practically quotes Messiaen, for example). For all that, Matthews’s sense of rhetoric and form is comparatively conservative—one will not find the sort of complexity or exploration of uncharted realms that makes Elliott Carter’s contemporary Symphonia so thrilling. Matthews’s Symphony No. 2 has been performed in Canada since this recording was made in 1999, and one hopes that it is on the agenda of TNC. The First certainly deserves the widest possible hearing and would be a terrific addition to the growing number of big symphonies from North America that have finally been making serious headway into the contemporary orchestral repertoire. The present performance, recorded by the Ukraine-based Kiev Camerata, here expanded to full symphony orchestra size, seems resplendent and is extremely well recorded. While elsewhere I come down fairly hard on Virko Baley’s skills as a composer, I have no complaints whatsoever about his skills as either a conductor or as an A&R man.

John Story