Concerto in Azzuro

David Matthews (1943)

Concerto in Azzuro 2002

2222 - 4231 - timp - perc(2)- harp - cel - strings

I began my cello concerto in January 2000 and finished it, after several interruptions, in the spring of 2002. Like many pieces I have written, it is in a single large-scale movement, lasting just under 25 minutes. Its formal scheme is one I have also used before: it derives from the first movement of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony and can be described in essence as statement and expanded counter-statement. New to this Concerto, however, is an incorporation into the counter-statement of two other movement types from Classical sonata form: scherzo and slow movement. So that, in one sense, the Concerto can also be heard as a compressed three-movements-in-one piece: allegro, scherzo and lento finale. The allegro statement has the archetypal juxtaposition of energetic first subject group - a toccata-like dialogue between cello and orchestra, which after the first climax is developed and extended in a passage for orchestra alone - and, after a short bridging cadenza, a lyrical second theme. The counter-statement begins with a close recapitulation of the opening toccata, but it soon branches off into an extensive scherzo section which further develops the music of the first subject group. The scherzo reaches a loud and boisterous conclusion, and is followed by another cadenza which becomes for a time a duet with the 1st violin. The elaborate slow finale begins, at first with a motive from the first subject group, but then with a passionate development of the second theme. This erupts into the full orchestra for the climactic passage of the Concerto, which incorporates a further, brief recapitulation of the opening toccata. The cello's entry after the climax calms the music, leading to a quiet meditation on the second theme, and eventually bringing the piece to a serene, almost motionless conclusion.

The Concerto does not have an extra-musical programme, except that in May 2001, when I had written the first section but was still uncertain about how the piece would progress, I visited the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel in cloudless spring weather. The island, raised above the sea, seemed suffused with blue; and I conceived of the rest of the Concerto as a kind of journey towards that ultimate blueness. Since I associate the key of B flat with the colour blue, that became the inevitable tonal goal of the piece, one already foreshadowed by the fact that B flat is the first (long-held) note that the cello plays, but at the start it is in tritonal conflict with the orchestra's E minor. The gradual resolution of this initial conflict is the basic tonal argument of the Concerto. In the coda, everything gradually ebbs away into B flat: the strings' diatonic clusters melt into a long sustained unison, into which the solo cello merges in a final surrendering of individuality.

David Matthews

5.10.02 Cheltenham Town Hall: Steven Isserlis/BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
6.10.02 Brangwyn Hall, Swansea: Steven Isserlis/BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
26.6.05 Symphony Hall, Birmingham: Steven Isserlis/City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
28.6.05 Sage Gateshead: Steven Isserlis/City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
3.12.07 RNCM, Manchester: tbc/BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Rumon Gamba
27.1.10 BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff: Guy Johnston/BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Jac van Steen
2nd doubling piccolo
2nd doubling cor anglais
2nd doubling bass clarinet
vibraphone, glockenspiel, 2 suspended cymbals, chinese cymbals, gong, tam-tam, triangle, rainstick, chinese bell tree, bass drum