The Symphonies of Matthew Taylor

NI6406 cover

TAYLOR: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5. Romanza for Strings* / BBC National Orchestra of Wales; *English Symphony Orch.; Kenneth Woods, cond / Nimbus Alliance NI6406

British composer Matthew Taylor, born in 1964, studied composition (as did my friend Peter Seabourne) with Robin Holloway in Queen’s College, Cambridge. He has been Artistic Director of the Malvern Festival, Composer in Residence at the Blackheath Halls, Associate Composer of ensemble Sound Collective, Artistic Director of the Royal Tunbridge Wells International Music Festival andArtistic Director of the St Petersburg British Music Festival.

His music is colorful and extroverted, with just enough modern harmonies to interest the listener without overwhelming the music. The opening of the Fourth Symphony is a bit splashy, taken at a fast clip and well developed from a theme that is really no more than a short motive played by the strings. I noted that Taylor uses very colorful orchestration and strong rhythms to make his mark, including some pretty energetic tympani. Indeed, the variety of orchestral color is a constant in this first movement, which eventually moves into short chromatic slides by the lower strings and a passage in which the oboe plays against what sounds to me like a xylophone. The development section features quirky but attractive wind and string passages. By and large, the music is more entertaining than deep or profound.

The slow movement, built on the same opening motif as the first but slower, is more of a “mod” piece played by the violas and lower violins. In the middle of the movement, things become more excitable and those ol’ tympani make a return visit. Taylor also employ some interesting soft, timbral effects towards the end via the celesta and soft clarinet playing. The third and last movement combines some of the excitement of the first movement with the mystery and elegance of the second.

The somewhat brief (seven-minute) Romanza is placed on this disc between the two symphonies. It is a typically modern-British sort of piece, somewhat in the vein of early Britten, pleasant but not particularly memorable despite some nice development of the principal theme.

The Fifth Symphony is entirely different from the Fourth: edgier in the accepted modern style, less “cute” in its themes and handling of them, and although it is still colorful in orchestration the scoring is geared more towards a dramatic profile. I liked this symphony very much; it appealed to me from the opening statement and kept holding my attention throughout. Occasionally, Taylor uses similar scoring and also gives solos to the various wind instruments, particularly the flute and clarinet, but the entire endeavor seemed to me more compact in construction and geared more towards drama than pure entertainment. Even the quieter passages here have a greater sense of drama and tension, even when quiet, than in the Fourth Symphony.

The second movement eases up on the tension and is considerably more playful in tone, yet somehow also more serious than the Fourth Symphony. It is comprised almost entirely of soft wind passages interspersed with soft strings, and even with its somewhat whimsical framework there remains a strange undercurrent of menace lurking just around the corner, as if someone were walking along a lonely road at night, whistling in the dark. Moreover, this uneasy feeling continues through the remaining two movements although, in the middle of the last movement, Taylor again approaches the stronger rhythms and faster tempi of the first movement to end on a more dramatic note.

All in all, then, a pretty good recording, with the Fifth Symphony being my favorite work on the disc.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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