Monday 14 March 2016

Rediscovering the artistry and musicianship of Denis Matthews

When I went to medical school, my main interest in classical music was studying the piano literature. This was somewhat later for me than for most people that become interested in 'serious music', because I came into the classics via opera and baroque music; and conceived a dislike for the pianoforte and a compensatory preference for the harpsichord.

Anyway, at some point - probably via chamber music and specifically Schubert's 'Trout' quintet - I decided that this was silly, and started work on the piano repertoire, beginning with a present from my mother: John Lill performing Beethoven's third piano concerto with the Scottish National Orchestra (I still have it).

My serious engagement with the piano was around two very contrasting pianists of special distinction: on the one hand I attended many performances at the university given by Denis Matthews, who was our Professor of Music - and his qualities were a wonderful lyricism, lightness of touch in the right hand, and a long-line of architecture in music of the classical and early Romantic era; and on the other hand recordings by Glenn Gould, with his astonishing counterpoint and close-up analytic (indeed dissection-like!) approach, focusing on the baroque era (and moderns, although I didn't ever take to this).

It has therefore been an unusual and unexpected pleasure for me to engage with the many recordings of Matthews now available on YouTube, and to hear again exactly those qualities I appreciated in live performance. Evident - for example - here:

I could have encountered these long before, if I had properly listened-to the BBC Radio Three memorial trilogy about Matthews, which was compiled and produced by my former Newcastle University flatmate (and ex-student of Matthews) Jeremy Hayes - not long after Matthews very sadly took his own life on Christmas Day of 1988.

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