<< -- 3 -- Keith Bramich CONGRESS OF PASSIONS
David Matthews' A Congress of Passions began life in 1994 as a commission for
voice, oboe and piano from Michael Chance, Nicholas Daniel and Julius Drake. The version
for string orchestra was commissioned by St Mary's in the Castle, Hastings and prepared
in early 2000. Matthews learnt Greek at school and discovered the celebrated Aegean
poetess Sappho, whose work survives only in those fragments quoted by other writers.
A famous, descriptive and almost complete Sappho love poem (used as the central section
of Matthews' cantata)
is quoted by Longinus. The cantata's title comes from a comment by Longinus, describing
Sappho's poem. Matthews acknowledges a certain amount of guesswork in his
research for this piece -- our knowledge of the music of the ancient Greeks is somewhat
limited. His material includes two Cretan folksongs and music for the askomandoura
(Cretan bagpipe), and his use of the oboe (vibrant playing by Ruth Bolister)
is a hint in the direction of
the aulos, an early reed instrument. Matthews' music here is strong and active, usually
in motion, but with an ancient, rarified and sparse feel. It's music that
falls easily on the ear, and which revels in the beauty of simple sounds. Matthews'
English translation (mastered expertly in the original Greek by Ruth Peel)
gives a clue to why his
music ends so abruptly -- Sappho's lover has failed to turn up: 'The moon
has set, and the Pleiades; it is midnight, the time is going by and I lie alone.
I yearn and I seek.'
David Matthews on stage after the performance of his 'A Congress of Passions'. Left to right: Ruth Bolister, Ruth Peel, David Matthews and George Vass. Photo: Keith Bramich
The concert ended with a slick, speedy, accurate and well-balanced performance of
Vivaldi's Gloria, one of those pieces that form part of
the staple diet of British choirs. It provided another chance to hear the well-blending
voices of Rachel Nicholls and Ruth Peel, and it shifted the limelight
back to the Finchley Choral Society,
whose centenary this large and appreciative audience had gathered to celebrate.
Well done Finchley!
Ladies from the Finchley Choral Society, on stage after their performance of the Vivaldi Gloria. Photo: Keith Bramich
Copyright © 17 November 2003
Keith Bramich, London UK
THE FINCHLEY CHORAL SOCIETY
DAVID MATTHEWS AT FABER MUSIC