Villiers String Quartet (James Dickenson, Tamaki Higashi violins, Carmen Flores viola, Nick Stringfellow cello) with Martin Cousin, piano
First Recording of Piano Quintet Op. 92 by David Matthews
Piano Quintet Op. 57 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Recorded live during a concert at Turner Sims, Southampton
“Martin, James, Tamaki, Carmen, Nick — thank you all for a superb recording, full of warmth and passion. I’m absolutely delighted.” (David Matthews to Martin Cousin and the Villiers String Quartet).
This new release brings an exciting world premiere recording to the SOMM catalogue – the Piano Quintet Op. 92 by David Matthews coupled with an ideal companion piece, the Piano Quintet by Dmitri Shostakovich. David Matthews wrote his Piano Quintet in 2004 as an engagement present for his wife Jenifer, so in his view, its overall happy mood is appropriate.
David Matthews says in the CD booklet notes:
“When I wrote a piano quartet in 1995 I called it A Song and Dance Sketchbook because I didn’t want to follow the classical formal scheme, but also to acknowledge that each of its six movements was either a song or a dance. In this Piano Quintet I chose to adhere, more or less, to the traditional scheme: four movements, with a scherzo and a slow movement in the middle. The song and dance element, however, remains just as predominant. The outer movements are essentially lyrical while the middle movements are dance movements, with the chaconne third movement a blend of song and dance.”
The first movement is based almost entirely on variations of the motif heard in the piano after the opening three chords. The second movement is a Tango, a form that has come to interest David Matthews a great deal. This one, his fourth tango, is in some ways the most traditional, since the tango seems particularly suited to the medium of piano and strings. The third movement Chaconne is in a giocoso mood with an arresting Finale which grew out of a walking holiday in Italy in the spring of 2004 on an Easter Sunday morning. Matthews heard the bells of the nearby town of Montefalco and they appear at the centre of the movement as he notated them, with the rest of the thematic material derived from them.
The Shostakovich Piano Quintet is considered one of his finest works and one of a small handful of great piano quintets written in the 20th century. There is a certain affinity between the Quintet by David Matthews and that of Shostakovich – similarities in pace and mood as well as the special interaction between piano and strings and also the appearance, in the first movement, of a tiny three-note cell begun by the piano that in the Shostakovich, can be traced all through the work. Shostakovich began work on the Quintet in the summer of 1940 and completed it in September. It was premiered in November 1940 by the Beethoven Quartet for whom he wrote most of his string quartets, with the composer at the piano. It was a great success and was awarded the Stalin Prize of 100,000 roubles, a gesture which seemed to confirm the complete public rehabilitation of the composer following the regime’s blistering attacks on his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
David Matthews was born in London in 1943 and started composing at the age of sixteen. He was largely self-taught, though he studied privately with Anthony Milner and was greatly helped by Nicholas Maw and Peter Sculthorpe. He also learned much from being an assistant to Benjamin Britten in the late 1950s. His large output includes eight symphonies, five symphonic poems, six concertos, thirteen string quartets and many chamber and vocal works. A number of his works are inspired by landscapes and seasons, by paintings and literary texts and by collaborations with instrumentalist friends. He has also written books on Tippett and Britten, and has worked extensively as an arranger: his arrangements for strings of Elgar’s String Quartet and Malcolm Arnold’s Second Quartet have been recorded on SOMM (SOMMCD 0145). Recent premieres include his Eighth Symphony in April 2015 and Toward Sunrise, played by the CBSO at the Lichfield Festival in July 2015. He has recently completed his 13th String Quartet, composed in memory of Peter Sculthorpe.
The Villiers Quartet is “one of the most charismatic and adventurous quartets of the British chamber music scene” (The Strad). Nothing is outside the VQ’s repertoire as they define the string quartet for the 21st century. Dedicated to mainstream repertoire, they have also developed a reputation as exceptional interpreters of English composers including Elgar, Britten, Delius, George Butterworth and William Sterndale Bennett. Known for championing the work of British composers, the VQ has been invited to present masterclasses at Dartmouth College, Syracuse University and Goshen College USA as well as the University of Nottingham. Having toured across the UK and internationally, they have been declared “one of the best young quartets around today” (Fine Arts Quartet) and their performances of Shostakovich and Tischenko have been hailed as “masterful playing” (Classical Source). Their debut CD for Naxos, The Complete Quartets of Robert Still, was praised for their “sublimely articulate and concentrated readings,” (Gramophone) and received 5***** in Classical Music Magazine. The VQ are winners of the 2015 Radcliffe Chamber Music Competition, and they are Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Oxford Faculty of Music.
Regarded as one of the most exceptional pianists of his generation, Martin Cousin was awarded First Prize at the 2005 Ettore Pozzoli International Piano Competition, Italy and Gold Medal at the 2003 Over-Seas League Music Competition, London. Numerous solo recitals followed his solo debut at the Purcell Room in 1998, including several appearances at the Wigmore Hall. He has appeared as concerto soloist with all the major London orchestras and performances further afield have included tours of New Zealand, Italy, the US and concerts in Stockholm, Brussels, Toronto, Berne and The Hague. Cousin’s 2006 on SOMM, of his debut disc, Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 1, was selected as Classical CD of the Week by The Daily Telegraph. The US magazine Fanfare added. “This is the performance of the 1st Sonata that I have always heard in my head but never thought I’d actually get to hear with my ears. This guy’s the Real Deal!”
Cousin’s latest CD on SOMM (Rachmaninov’s Etudes Tableaux) received a 5***** review in The Observer. Classical Source added: “This is one of the best solo piano records I have heard for a very long time. There is none better”. Fanfare Magazine proclaimed “I am prepared to state that Cousin is among the most distinguished Rachmaninoff pianists of our generation“.
On This Recording
- Piano Quintet: I. Prelude: Moderato con moto
- Piano Quintet: II. Tango: Urgente
- Piano Quintet: III. Ciaccona: Largo
- Piano Quintet: IV. Canto: Allegretto Giocoso
- Piano Quintet: I. Prelude: Lento
- Piano Quintet: II. Fugue: Adagio
- Piano Quintet: III. Scherzo: Allegretto
- Piano Quintet: IV. Intermezzo: Lento
- Piano Quintet: V. Finale: Allegretto