The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Guy Johnston (cello) BBC Philharmonic, Rumon Gamba (conductor)
Composer: David Matthews

David Matthews describes his Concerto in azzurro, written in 2002 for Steven Isserlis and inspired by a haloed vision of the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, as a ‘kind of journey towards the ultimate blueness’. Its predominant motif (uncannily reminiscent of the Dies irae) may veer downwards, but the overall trajectory is skyward. Matthews’s gift for reinventing tonally imbued Romanticism without sounding retrogressive results in writing for both soloist and orchestra that positively glows with warmth.

The music inevitably plays to the lyrical nature of the cello’s persona and in this first recording Guy Johnston responds with ample singing tone. But he also brings an astute rhythmic vigour to the passionate opening section, an affecting introspection to the work’s heart and wistfulness to the ethereal close. Johnston is matched by equally fervent playing from the BBC Philharmonic under Rumon Gamba.

Two richly coloured symphonic poems complete this atmospherically recorded disc.    

Matthew Rye