BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Jac van Steen

David Matthews: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 6

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This Dutton release featuring David Matthews' Second and Sixth symphonies performed by Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales joins the label's previously issued recording of the composer's First, Third, and Fifth symphonies performed by Martyn Brabbins and the same orchestra. Like that disc, it shows that the stylistic distance between Matthews' earlier and later symphonies is as great as the chronological difference. The Second Symphony, written between 1976 and 1979, is in four tough and uncompromising movements with strong contrasts, stark colors, acerbic harmonies, driving tempos, and plentiful assaultive percussion instruments. The Sixth, written between 2003 and 2007, is a much more approachable work in three movements with smoother transitions, blended colors, more consonant harmonies, calmer tempos, and a multitude of mellower percussion instruments. In both works, van Steen and the Welsh musicians turn in performances that seem much more than professionally interested; they seem bound and determined to make the best possible case for the composer and his music. Matthews is traditional composer in that he writes music in the traditional forms with the traditional goal of communicating with his listeners. Fans of Boulez and Nono may find his music old-fashioned, but some listeners are likely to find it too challenging to be enjoyed without a great deal of effort. However one judges the music, the sound, like the performances, is terrific: richly detailed, warmly colored, and beautifully balanced.

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