Having hitherto bewailed the fact that more challenging composers (Finnissy, Lachenmann et al.) are kept at bay from the Proms for decade after decade, last Monday’s new work came from Colin Matthews, a composer almost wildly over-represented at the festival; Matthews’ new work, Turning Point, was the 22nd of his to be featured at the Proms, a statistic that ought to raise even more eyebrows than those accompanying the glaring composer absences. Judging from the programme note, the piece evidently caused Matthews difficulties in knowing how to proceed, leading to him putting the score aside for over a year. The solution seems to have been to turn the work into a diptych, the second panel of which contrasts hugely with the first. Having finally made it to the concert hall, Turning Point was given its first performance in January 2007 by its commissioners, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Monday’s UK première was by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales directed by Thomas Søndergård.
Dramatically, Matthews’ solution seems to work pretty effectively, but there are some familiar niggles in the first panel, which occupies about two-thirds of the overall duration. It seems necessary to coin a new adjective—’Faberian’ would do nicely—for the kind of thing one hears all too often in works from the more mainstream protagonists of that particular publishing house. Turning Point begins with just this kind of thing, the acceptable face of orchestration, incessant hopping woodwind parts, strings & brass capturing notes & holding them, then a melody emerging to offer something in the way of contrast, all wrapped up in a cosy kind of consonance—one’s heard this kind of thing time after time after time; it’s predictable, it’s safe, it’s easy, it’s hackneyed & it’s very, very boring indeed. Thankfully, Matthews shuts the hell up with this stuff after just a few minutes, pursuing something in the rest of the panel that has rather more depth & dramatic intricacy. In fact, what i initially found quite irritating—new takes on the underlying driven material that become burnt out & soft quickly afterwards—over time becomes extremely telling, keeping the narrative sense tense & sharp, & very far from being predictable. In this way, Matthews sets up an engaging friction, one made more interesting through lyrical tendrils that have a tendency to bleed through; & while he may have lacked certainty about the ultimate direction the work wanted to take, something of the second panel’s spirit can be heard around five minutes in, when the upper strings—faced with brass accents that attempt to shift the mood—cleave to slow pensivity, determined to take their time, an approach that, at this point at least, proves successful.
The work’s titular moment comes in the wake of a series of increasingly demonstrative brass derailments: heavy, sustained chords, over which the trumpets draw sympathetic shapes. Although for the first few minutes it sounds like a plumber is trying to fix something in the wings (quite what the percussion are doing is anyone’s guess), it soon broadens out into a music the tone of which is splendidly hard to deduce. There’s a kind of majesty to it, coupled to an intense kind of melancholy &/or wistfulness. Occasionally, it’s rather too familiar, Matthews coming close to breaking the work’s stylistic (or at least harmonic) integrity. But he gets away with it for the most part, & while there are some dangerous Faberian afterthoughts nipping at the work’s heels, their momentum fails to find purchase, the orchestra instead refocussing on becoming smaller & slower; all remaining echoes of the first panel become effortlessly absorbed into its fragile texture, allowing the piece to close with a kind of cool dignity.
Colin Matthews – Turning Point (UK Première)
Colin Matthews – Turning Point
- Loved it! (24%, 5 Votes)
- Liked it (62%, 13 Votes)
- Meh (10%, 2 Votes)
- Disliked it (0%, 0 Votes)
- Hated it! (5%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 21