Andrew Quint reviews “James Matheson” for The Absolute Sound

Absolute Sound

Matheson: Violin Concerto, String Quartet, Times Alone.

James MathesonMusic, Video and Downloads

Yarlung Record’s program produced and financed by the musical philanthropists J and Helen Schlichting of Southern California, is an excellent introduction to the notable American composer James Matheson. Matheson, now in his mid-40s, wrote his Violin Concerto for Baird Dodge, principal second violinist of the Chicago Symphony — and once the composer’s roommate at Swarthmore College. All of Matheson’s music has a bold, cinematic flair. His writing for solo violin is highly idiomatic and virtuosic; the orchestral contribution is extravagantly colorful. Matheson employs an advanced tonal syntax and confidently cites other styles as he makes his argument: the central Chaconne of the Concerto references the slow movement from Mahler’s Sixth Symphony and the energetic finale strongly suggests bluegrass. Esa-Pekka Salonen was on the podium leading the CSO for the world premiere recorded here in December of 2011.

Dodge joined three other players from the flexible chamber ensemble Color Field for a scintillating reading of Matheson’s String Quartet. Repeating spiraling patterns superficially suggest minimalist technique; but this is actually music that’s quite traditional in its sense of structure and the passing of time — hyper-alert, focused, and invigorating. Best of all is Times Alone, a song cycle based on five poems by the Spanish Writer Antonio Machado (1875-1939), as translated by Robert Bly. Matheson doesn’t merely “set” the texts — he seems to take ownership of them like a singer-songwriter. The concerto recording scales the solo instrument correctly and the orchestral sonority is luminous. Times Alone captures the impressive dynamic power of soprano Laura Strickling and massive, dimensional piano sound.


Andrew Quint, The Absolute Sound, September 2016


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