Matthew Kaner


For Chamber Music (Debut Album on Delphian Records)

“This fine debut album from London-born Matthew Kaner (b1986) reveals a composer deftly able to draw the listener into his far-reaching imaginative world. As clarinettist and Goldfield Ensemble artistic director Kate Romano notes, a love of storytelling underpins much of the music here, with starting points ranging from birds on the wing to extremes of mountain weather – and the pairing of a child’s nocturnal dreams with wider musings on stars and dark matter.

While each piece is strongly evocative, Kaner’s narratives do not merely provide extra-musical meaning or structure. It’s precisely his ability to look through others’ eyes that renders his music eloquent in abstract terms. In the Baroque-inspired Suite for Cello, for instance, it’s as if he’s offering colours and themes that soloist Guy Johnston might himself wish to explore. Likewise the swooping and hovering of Flight Studies becomes an invitation for soloist Mark Simpson to enjoy soaring with his basset clarinet. There’s playfulness here, and generosity, couched in fluid phrases that blur the boundaries between the tonal and the non-tonal – and everywhere the performers pace in subtle degrees of animation and repose. Benjamin Baker and Daniel Lebhardt prove wonderfully expressive in Five Highland Scenes (violin and piano) – joined in kind by cellist Matthias Balzat for the lovely Piano Trio, its third movement ‘Eroding Lines’ referencing the rich textile art of Kaner’s mother Sabine. Most striking of all, the clarinet quintet At Night takes the Goldfield into spaces full of mystery, yet never cold or alien.”

Steph Power, 5* BBC Music Magazine, January 24, 2023

“Having enjoyed Matthew Kaner’s much-delayed Proms debut Pearl in 2022, I was looking forward to this disc of his chamber music. I wasn’t disappointed, although this is unshowy, private, slightly elusive music, quite different to the modern medievalism of the Proms piece. It certainly has a starry cast of performers, who are eloquent advocates for Kaner’s music, and the album boasts the high recording quality you expect of Delphian. Mark Simpson plays Flight Studies on basset clarinet. His virtuosity makes light of the swoops and jumps of these evocations of the swift and the kestrel. There is narrative in these pieces – as in everything on the disc – but also a melodic grace, which is perhaps less evident elsewhere. Guy Johnston plays the Suite for Cello, whose eight short movements segue into each other, with a ghostly otherworldliness. This is not the cello in heroic mode but rather as quizzical outsider, and it makes sense that its tentative lyricism emerged from the lockdown of 2020.

The Piano Trio, played by Benjamin Baker (violin), Daniel Lebhardt (piano) and Matthias Blazt (cello) is languid for the first two movements before bursting into activity in the third, finding unlikely interest in ribbons of ascending scales. The Goldfield Ensemble, led by clarinettist Kate Romano (who also contributes the thoughtful booklet essay), find the mercurial narrative in At Night. The first movement depicts a child winding down before bed, the second star-gazing, and although I wouldn’t have deduced these scenarios from listening alone, as with the whole disc there is characterful momentum that makes musical sense, whatever the story it conjures up for any particular listener.”

Bernard Hughes, The Arts Desk, 14 January 2023

“Matthew Kaner (b1986) studied music at King’s College London before moving on to postgraduate studies with Julian Anderson at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where he is now Professor of Composition. In her booklet note, Kate Romano, clarinettist and director of the Goldfield Ensemble, who perform the clarinet quintet At Night (2021), draws attention to Kaner’s upbringing in a family of artisans and craftsmen, and there is a tangible sense of the well-made in each of these carefully put-together works.

At Night is a diptych, its two movements titled, slightly disarmingly, ‘The Land of Nod’ and ‘Searching for the Dimmest Stars’ and inspired respectively by poems about night by RL Stevenson comfortably and comfortingly in the first movement, and cosmologist Rebecca Elson in the second, with its ethereal, spare textures shot through with faint gleams. The Piano Trio (2016-21) is more metaphorically earthbound, the first movement, ‘Glints in the Water’ (written first), spurred on by a few of Unsuk Chin’s piano studies. The central ‘Ripples’ is a beautiful meditation on the quiet movement of water on the surface of a pond. The final ‘Eroding Lines’ takes its cue from a fabric design of the composer’s mother and draws the threads of the Trio together very neatly.

Kaner’s sense of descriptive narrative is exemplified well by Mark Simpson’s delicate, swooping, wheeling and soaring rendition of ‘The Swift’ and ‘The Kestrel’, the two portraits of Flight Studies (2021). Indeed, the performances throughout, by a clutch of some of Britain’s finest chamber players, are extraordinarily good. The Goldfield Ensemble and the Baker-Lebhardt-Balzat trio are first-rate, and Baker and Lebhardt catch the patchwork tone pictures of the Highland Scenes (2016-19) with equal acuity. Guy Johnston relishes the textures of the Suite (2020)[…] Excellent sound, in a dryish acoustic.”

Guy Rickards, Gramophone Magazine, January 2023

“Glints in The Water; Searching For The Dimmest Stars; The Kestrel; Fireside Tale – all descriptive movement titles to works generically labelled by composer Matthew Kaner as, say, Piano Trio or Flight Studies for Basset Clarinet. Yet they are key in defining the ultra-perceptive imagery, textural delicacy and illuminating precision of this evocative chamber music by the 36-year-old Londoner, performed by the Goldfield Ensemble with help from cellists Guy Johnson and Matthias Balzat, basset clarinettist Mark Simpson, violinist Benjamin Baker and pianist Daniel Lebhardt. They present such highly imaginative and truly picturesque music with adeptness and affection, from the spectral reflectiveness of Suite for Solo Cello and flecked tracery of Five Highland Scenes, to the overriding quiescence of the Piano Trio, the dreamy intricacy of At Night for Clarinet Quintet, and the swooping virtuosity of Flight Studies. Kaner is a composer worth getting to know better.”

Ken Walton (5*), The Scotsman, 13 November 2022

“Much shimmers and glistens in Matthew Kaner’s Music … this first disc devoted solely to his works, focuses on his chamber music, and writing for small-scale forces seems to play to his strengths … never too sweet or pastoral-sentimental, unlike some of his English forebears, his music is more like Messiaen in its tougher, repeated insistence though more earth-rooted than the Frenchman … Kaner can do lightness, surprise and deftness when he wishes to, just listen to the first movement of his Piano Trio – that really is a pearl of a piece.”

Robert Stein, Musical Opinion, October-December 2022

“Matthew Kaner is a talented composer as this debut disc of his chamber music demonstrates. In producing this album, Delphian is introducing a composer who adeptly and evocatively reveals so many characteristics of the instruments for which he writes. Whether it be for solo cello, piano trio, or a clarinet quintet, Kaner’s music depicts so many inventive musical metaphors, firmly establishing him as a fine composer of chamber music. These are works that would make interesting additions to repertoire at the copious chamber concerts that take place the length and breadth of the UK every week. As an introduction to his music, the 36-year-old Kaner is joined by gifted musicians who skilfully bring each composition to life. The textural elements of each score show an in-depth understanding for the different instruments.

His music has moments of beauty, hauntingly so, especially At Night, which is made up of a pair of movements inspired on the theme of night. The Goldfield Ensemble superbly help convey the storytelling. The sweeping phrases in Flight Studies for basset clarinet with its deep resonant sounds certainly depicts the flight patterns of a kestrel and swift. The instrument’s tonal colours that Mark Simpson so adroitly displays are captivating. The Suite for Cello produces the same sentiment as in Flight Studies, Kaner’s ability to appreciate the cello’s rich colours enables Guy Johnston to create the intensity that drove Kaner to write the 2020 work during lockdown, and so we feel the unease, uncertainly and the melancholy that this period had on our lives. Yet, as Kaner writes in the notes, ’there are also moments of hope and anticipation’.

The first movement of the Piano Trio ‘Glints in the water’, expressively enables the listener to think around the titles and be taken to a deeper level as the cello, piano and violin create the expansive lines that Kaner produced. ‘Ripples’ is more mediative, and the last movement inspired by a ‘beautiful pieces of textile art by my mother, Sabine Kaner, entitled Eroded Lines’ captures the individual textural colours of each instrument and the brilliance of the compositional writing is that they blend and complement each other. As a debut disc of contemporary music this is an album that has a lot to offer, it is infused with a composer’s personality whose acuity and creative vision is vividly and descriptively exhibited. His melodic lines and rhythmic pulse cement his credentials as an innovative and original composer.”

Andrew Palmer, The Yorkshire Times, 4 December 2022

For Pearl

Matthew Kaner is by no means the first composer to wrestle with representing the mystical in music. In his new work for baritone, chorus and orchestra he captures it uncommonly effectively. Pearl is a half-hour journey through grief, setting words by the poet laureate Simon Armitage, who worked with Kaner on a 2018 retelling of Hansel & Gretel. This time the words are from Armitage’s 2016 translation of a 14th-century work thought to be by the writer who brought us Gawain. A Jeweller mourning his “Pearl”, presumably his daughter, dreams that he sees her in paradise. He can’t reach her, but what she says to him is enough that when he wakes his anguish has turned into acceptance.

It begins with music that repeatedly slips through your fingers – distant-sounding muted brass, fiddle-like solo-violin figures that cascade downwards before coming to rest. The first words of the Jeweller are coloured by reinforcement from the choir that vanishes almost as soon as you notice it. It’s quiet, gently glittering stuff, and slow-moving in the expository section, then growing more agitated as the dream-vision begins.

Then come the words spoken by Pearl – and, as sung by the BBC Symphony Chorus, these were spine-tingling. The passage started with slender, innocent lines for the sopranos, then grew to encompass the whole ensemble, overlapping and jostling together as if that one speaking girl had become multitudes. Meanwhile, the orchestra fizzed with static, as though the collision of worlds were sparking electricity. The climb-down to the postlude and brief final Amen could have been anticlimactic, but the tireless performance of Roderick Williams as the Jeweller, supremely communicative as ever, kept the intensity sustained.”

Erica Jeal, The Guardian (4*), 11 August 2022

“Kaner’s setting is essentially an extended arioso lamentation by the jeweller, expertly sung by Roderick Williams, with some telling contributions by the chorus. The female choristers “speak” as Pearl in the afterlife, a beautiful moment. The score often shimmered, high strings and tuned percussion representing both the jewels Pearl wears and her iridescent white gown, as well as the dazzling vision of paradise. Kaner’s orchestral imagination and poetic word-setting made his 30-minute piece a fascinating response to this transcendental text.”

Roy Westbrook, Bachtrack (4*), 11 August 2022

For Five Highland Scenes

“The latter duo also premiered Matthew Kaner’s Five Highland Scenes, charmed vignettes embracing sparing impressionism and rhapsodic incantations from which emerge crisper textures and ultimately a soulfulness underpinning lyrical echoes of Vaughan Williams with spiritual harmonies of Messiaen.”

Ken Walton, The Scotsman, 5 July 2021

“At the heart of the programme was a very substantial sonata for violin and piano by young English composer Matthew Kaner. Highland Scenes is a big piece, nearly 20 minutes in length, with an equal share of the spoils to both players in terms of dynamics and range. It was also a world premiere, and proof, if any was needed, that East Neuk Festival is still operating at the cutting edge.”

Keith Bruce, The Herald (5*), 4 July 2021

On Hansel and Gretel

“Not a sugary dream, but a nightmare in eight scenes: make no bones about poet Simon Armitage’s contemporary retelling of the tale most familiar in the Brothers Grimm version. Hansel and Gretel’s plight becomes that of child refugees, whose parents’ agonising decision is to abandon their offspring to give them their only chance of surviving war. Armitage took his cue from the darkly imaginative illustrations by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who has now translated those original visions into a puppet show with new music by Matthew Kaner. In this premiere performance at the Cheltenham festival, staged by Goldfield Productions, what appeared at first to be a slight, small-scale affair in the end resonated altogether more deeply.

“Kaner’s quintet of players – strings, wind and toy pianos – were arranged on either side of a screen whose animated shadow play featured first the parents and then the ravenous craw of the archaeopteryx-like witch. On the central trestle table were Hansel and Gretel, wooden puppets barely a foot high that were manipulated by Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. It was the intimacy of tiny gestures offering expressive detail, in turn mirroring Kaner’s musical mood, that spoke volumes. Armitage’s words are the constantly shining white pebbles guiding the piece; his final verbal riff on light and dark will be even better savoured on the published page. Narrator Adey Grummet – twice bursting into sung lines – emphasised the mix of humour and satire with the moments of dystopian horror, making this an all too timely reminder of some children’s living, waking, starving nightmare.”

Rian Evans, The Guardian (4*), 10 July 2018

Evocative and haunting story-telling by @GFEnsemble in a dark reimagining of #HanselandGretel; hypnotic words from Simon Armitage clothed in deft, transparent score by @mattkaner that conjures everything from nursery-rhymes to sugar-rush and birdsong #newmusic

— Dan Harding (@modernmusicdan) October 21, 2018

Just been to see @mattkaner ‘s Hansel and Gretel with words by Simon Armitage and glorious puppet staging. Well worth seeing and hearing – a Nightmare in Eight Acts but thoroughly pleasurable to experience – be drawn into music and storytelling.— Alan Davey (@armslengthal) October 12, 2018

Completely entranced by @mattkaner’s Hansel & Gretel retelling here @Music_at_York! #haunted— Martin Suckling (@mcs42) October 3, 2018

Brilliant evening @UoYConcerts watching @GFEnsemble play ‘Hansel and Gretel’ music by @mattkaner and poetry by Simon Armitage – dark, beautiful and disturbing, those sad puppets will stay with me!— Charlotte Taylor (@charliektaylor) October 3, 2018

On Stranded

“There, bang in the middle of what by common consent turned out to be the best Europe Day Concert to date, was the world premiere of a piece which went as deep and as high as anything on the programme: Stranded by Matthew Kaner, in which the solo violinist finally breaks away from the combative orchestra and walks offstage, still playing… I was taken aback by the ravishing beauty of the sound (Matt’s orchestration is a wonder) and the impact of the playing.”

David Nice, I’ll Think of Something Later, 16 May 2017

On Embedded Composer in 3 Residency

“Radio 3’s reach for the most recent quarter was 2.12m – the station’s highest for this quarter in six years. The station also saw its highest reach for Breakfast in this period since 2011: 647,000 listeners, and an increase of 20% year on year. This increase can be attributed to Matthew Kaner’s 70-day residency, during which he created contemporary classical works each week.”

Katy Wright, Classical Music Magazine, 10 February 2017

“Over on Radio 3, Matthew Kaner has had no time to be bored since he took up his post as resident composer in September. Every week since then, Kaner has had to come up with a new work to be premièred on the Monday edition of Breakfast and then repeated through the week.

Over the past few weeks we have heard his pieces for solo clarinet, four baroque violins, the BBC Singers, viola and bass baritone (setting words by Kafka). Yet to come is a magical piece for piano trio, inspired by the Korean composer Unsuk Chin.”

Kate Chisholm, The Spectator, 26 November 2016

“Matthew Kaner is one of a handful of young British composers who have passed through that country’s long list of development opportunities and begun to forge a distinctive musical voice. Like many composers of his generation you can hear idiomatic instrumental writing and finely wrought textures, perhaps inherited from composers like his teacher Julian Anderson. As well as influences from his home country it’s possible to detect influences from further afield; recent pieces cite the influence of the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen and Frenchman Henri Dutilleux. But there’s also something personal in Kaner’s music – occasionally you can hear a darker, wilder energy which seems to be entirely personal.”

William Cole, HK Interlude, 31 October, 2016

For Sicilienne

“a forlornly exquisite solo piece… It strikes me that although he smiles and laughs freely, this baleful and languid piece sounds like something written by someone almost with a premature insight into death.”

Antonia Quirke, The New Statesman, 10 November 2016

For Dance Suite

“The two dances as yet making up Matthew Kaner’s Dance Suite are, in his words, ‘very contrasting’, a Mazurka and a Sarabande. I say ‘as yet’, because Kaner plans to add other movements in the future, including ‘a more whimsical and playful Gigue’. Bell effects in the high treble are a remarkable feature of the Mazurka. Rhythmic inflections clearly have some roots in Chopin – how could they not? – but there are hints of other Eastern European composers too, as well as Debussy, without ever quite sounding ‘like’ them. There is – and in Uttley’s performance was – a keen sense of fantasy true both to instrument and genre. The Sarabande is slow, yet moves. Harmonies always intrigued: sometimes familiar, sometimes not. I shall be very keen to hear more! Kaner’s claim of having ‘tried to allow myself to embrace the works from the canon that I feel drawn to, rather than attempting to completely reinvent the medium’ seemed to me spot on.”

Mark Berry, Boulezian, 13 May 2015

“Bookended by works by Bach and Beethoven, the middle part of the concert featured the world premiere of two movements of Matthew Kaner’s ‘Dance Suite’, which Richard commissioned from the composer. The first movement, Mazurka, drew many influences from the traditional Polish dance in its rustic rhythms but also from one of the greatest exponents of the form, Chopin, in its melodic fragments. There were references to Szymanowski too in the more reflective, haunting melodies. The second movement, Sarabande, was a more meditative and lyrical, redolent of the sombre elegance of Bach’s sarabandes which are found in his French and English Suites. Uttley is a keen champion of contemporary music and he seemed completely at home in this repertoire. In the lively ‘Mazurka’ he brought crisp articulation and robust rhythmic vitality, while the ‘Sarabande’ was graceful and sensitively shaped…

As if often the way when contemporary music is programmed alongside more well-known works, the new revealed striking similarities in the Bach, Beethoven and contemporary works, while the old gave the listener a useful jumping off point into the new. I very much look forward to hearing further movements from Matthew Kaner.”

Frances Wilson, The Cross-Eyed Pianist, May 8 2015

For The Calligrapher’s Manuscript

“Matthew Kaner’s The Calligrapher’s Manuscript, takes the form of two linked halves inspired by the designs of the seventeenth-century German scribe Johann Hering. The composer draws a parallel between the intricate calligraphy of Hering’s manuscript and the detailed figuration which opens the first section of the piece, before the various strands coalesce into a melodic line – a process not dissimilar to that of Ligeti’s Melodien, and revealing a fastidious ear for orchestral texture. A slowly rotating series of harmonies on the strings dominates the second half of the work, with filigree ornamentation on the woodwind again suggesting a musical equivalent to the luxuriant tracery of the calligraphy, an excerpt from which is reproduced in the informative accompanying booklet. A short coda brings this impressive work and the CD as a whole to a conclusion.”

Peter O’Hagan, Tempo, 20 December 2016

“A new piece, then, from Matthew Kaner that arrived fully-fledged and rejoiced in the fulfillment of beautiful sonorities and a relish of embellishment that aimed to seduce as surely as did Uchida’s Mozart…

The Calligrapher’s Manuscript made music of penmanship and progressed from a first half alive with virtuosic flourishes etched out in piccolo, E-flat clarinet, and steely tuned percussion to an “illuminated” second half comprising myriad siren songs as if the folksy melismas of Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne had been reborn in the 21st century. Kaner’s piece exhibited real orchestral craftsmanship and has tweaked my interest in hearing more of what he has to offer.

Edward Seckerson, 20 Sep 2013

In between, we heard the premiere of Matthew Kaner’s The Calligrapher’s Manuscript…

Taking its inspiration from the work of the 17th-century Bavarian master calligrapher Johann Hering, the new piece – scored for large forces and lasting just over 10 minutes – opens with an outburst of tinkling high up in the orchestra and chattering winds, everyone in a state of flux and tracing ornamental lines. Kaner’s handling of the orchestra is accomplished from the start, and as the work progresses he stamps an imaginative mark, too: the second half develops quite sensuously as long and sinuous lines emerge from underneath the filigree.

John Allison, Daily Telegraph, 20 Sep 2013

The LSO’s Panufnik Scheme has already commissioned some plums (happily recorded, too, link below) and now has another one in Matthew Kaner’s 12-minute The Calligrapher’s Manuscript inspired by the 17th-century Bavarian, Johann Hering, whose work is personal and experimental. Kaner (born 1986) opens his impressive opus, scored for a standard large orchestra including harp, piano and celesta, in tintinnabulating and shrieking style, suggesting (to this listener) the mysteries of the universe, from piccolo skirls to the deep foundation of a contrabassoon, trumpets sounding a call to attention. The music increases in energy (tom-toms fuelling further incident) until the work’s second half arrives (without interruption) with nocturnal string-writing and delicious woodwind arabesques, Pibroch-like, for something expressive and touching, delicate percussion colours of bells, marimba and glockenspiel adding a further layer of atmosphere. If the LSO plans a second Panufnik Legacies CD (please!), then The Calligrapher’s Manuscript, which is exhilarating and haunting, should certainly be included. This striking piece received an excellent first performance.

Colin Anderson, The Classical Source, 20 Sep 2013

Uchida then joined the audience to listen to the world premiere of The Calligrapher’s Manuscript by Matthew Kaner. Its confident opening immediately grabbed the attention, allowing a strong cinematic quality to emerge. Although this was not merely soundtrack music, it was easy to imagine powerful events unfolding to the accompaniment of Kaner’s large orchestra.

Nick Kimberley, Evening Standard, 20 Sep 2013

Matthew Kaner’s The Calligrapher’s Manuscript, the last and perhaps most imaginative work on the album.

Patrick Castillo, Q2 Music Album of the Week, 28 March 2016