Colin Matthews has been the Halle's associate composer since 2001. As a showcase for his and the orchestra's stylistic versatility, the two works on this disc - both world premiere recordings - couldn't be bettered. In fact, it would be hard to come up with a more contrasting pair of works.
The strangely titled Alphabicycle Order, premiered by the Halle in 2007, is a light-hearted setting of twenty six children's rhymes by Christopher Reid. Scored for orchestra, children's choir and narrator, it is a musically accessible, quirky, pun-laden, and sometimes killingly funny trip through the alphabet, from Alphabike and Butterflea to Zagzig. As with A A Milne and Hilaire Belloc, the surreal humour of the verses works for adults and children alike, albeit in slightly different ways. Children will love the silliness of Cluckwork's opening words, ''First thing each day, before anything happens, I take a large key and step out to the coop to wind up the chickens'' (Geddit? Cluckwork? Clockwork? Groan….). I suspect that other verbal jokes, and indeed some classical musical references, will be lost on younger listeners. However, the music itself provides ample laughter opportunities. For instance, it is the Jaws-like theme of Diffodils that will get the kids going, but adults will enjoy the subversion of the harmless daffodil as a menacing threat, especially when the narration hair-raisingly describes the ''anxious poets''. Alphabicycle Order could fall flat as a pancake in the wrong hands, but Mark Elder and his musicians do it more than justice. The children's choir are clear of diction and deliver a remarkably snappy rhythmic performance. Henry Goodman, as narrator, delivers his lines with relish, and the orchestra play with humour and pizzazz.
After such upbeat hilarity, Matthews' sombre, dream-like Horn Concerto of 2004 is a striking and rather welcome contrast. Richard Watkins, for whom it was written, plays with great lyricism, with the orchestra matching his sonorous and controlled tone to create a haunting performance.