The title alone invites further exploration of this interesting, varied disc of piano music by Robert Matthew-Walker, a British composer and an influential part of the classical music recording industry for more than half a century (he ran marketing and publicity departments for leading record labels CBS and RCA, and has been editor of the respected ‘Musical Opinion’ magazine since 2009).
This new release on the SOMM label brings together first recordings of eight works composed between 1980 and 2021, including the title track, together with a suite of five pieces for children, redolent of similar suites for youngster by Schumann and Debussy, and works composed as tributes to other composers – John McCabe, Malcolm Arnold and W A Mozart.
Robert Matthew-Walker has an illustrious musical heritage: he studied in Paris with Darius Milhaud (and the wit of Milhaud is evident in many of the pieces on this disc) and has enjoyed friendships with many significant musical figures, including Leonard Bernstein (the liner notes include a photo of Matthew-Walker at Bernstein’s 53rd birthday party).
A Nocturne replete with lazy, hazy moods and timbres opens the disc. Sensuous and atmospheric, it could lull the listener into thinking the entire disc comprises music like this, but the accompanying Aubade is a lively wake up, with its urgent, jazzy rhythms. Both pieces are written for left hand alone, inspired after hearing a performance of Scriabin’s Opus 9 Nocturne for left hand.
Robert Matthew-Walker: Nocturne and Aubade, Op. 154 – No. 1 Reflection at Midnight (Mark Bebbington, piano)
What follows is an eclectic and intriguing collection of music which reveals the breadth of Matthew-Walker’s imagination and invention, and the myriad inspirations for his work – from musician/composer friends and colleagues to the vibrant cities of Los Angeles and New York. Three American Pictures celebrates the buzzing street-life of NYC in its first movement and pays homage to one of the city’s greatest sons, George Gershwin, in a poignant miniature which borrows the ostinato bass line of the second of the Three Preludes, over which a simple, twining melody recalls the lilting lyricism of Summertime. The final piece of this triptych, A Bad Night in Los Angeles, was written for Mark Bebbington (who performs the work here) and which the composer describes as “a piece of disco dance music for piano – transferred to the recital room”. Inspired by music the composer heard in a nightclub in LA, it’s uplifting and fun, with some Lisztian virtuosic touches to remind us that this is a concert piece.
Robert Matthew-Walker: Three American Pictures, Op. 157 – No. 3 At Bad Night in Los Angeles (Mark Bebbington, piano)
The Divertimento on a Theme of Mozart is a delightful pastiche for piano duet, played by Mark Bebbington and Rebeca Omordia, while the Fantasy on a Theme from Malcolm Arnold talks letters from Arnold’s name as its starting point, and inhabits a similar soundworld to some of Arnold’s less public music.
Robert Matthew-Walker: Fantasy on a Theme from Malcolm Arnold, Op. 208 (Mark Bebbington, piano)
The final work on the disc, The Fields Are White Already, is a powerful tribute to composer John McCabe (1939-2015). A sombre work with a broad narrative sweep, it encompasses a range of moods from contemplative to dramatically impassioned, before falling away into silence.
Mark Bebbington, a strong advocate for Robert Matthew-Walker’s music, brings crisp articulation, bright colourings and vibrant contrasts to his performance of this accessible and intriguing music.
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