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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

RECORDING OF THE MONTH


William MATHIAS (1934 – 1992)
Missa Brevis Op.64 (1973)a
Rex Gloriae Op.83 (1981)
Except the Lord Build the House Op.89 No.2 (1982)a
Angelus Op.90 No.5 (1983)b
Veni Sancte Spiritus Op.96 (1985)a
The Doctrine of Wisdom (1989)a
Yr Arglwydd Yw Fy Mugail (1989)b
Alleluia (1991)a
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (1992)a
Gloriae Dei Cantores; James E. Jordan, Jr. (organ)a; David Chalmers (piano)b; Elizabeth Patterson (conductor)
Recorded: Methuen Memorial Music Hall, Methuen, Mass. (no dates, published 1998)
GLORIAE DEI CANTORES GDCD 026 [74:36]


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Until his untimely death in 1992, William Mathias consistently and prolifically wrote choral music, sacred and profane, small and large, displaying – from early on – a number of hallmarks : sensitivity to words, idiomatic and eminently singable choral writing, memorable melodies, dancing and capricious rhythms and often brilliant organ writing. His choral output culminates in his large-scale choral-orchestral trilogy (This Worlde’s Joie, Lux Aeterna and World’s Fire), but also includes several small-scale masterpieces, some of which are featured in this superb survey of some of his shorter choral works. The Missa Brevis Op.64 of 1973 is one of them. This comparatively early work already displays most Mathias hallmarks. Mathias’s superbly crafted choral music often demanding is always rewarding to sing and to listen to. Most importantly it communicates directly and without fuss which is its most endearing quality. Rex Gloriae Op.83 for unaccompanied chorus is unquestionably a minor masterpiece. It consists of four contrasted motets that together make a short choral symphony. The first motet Laetantur Coeli is appropriately brilliant and festive with much florid writing whereas the deeply moving Victimae Paschali makes a telling use of subtle dissonance (another typical Mathias fingerprint) and has a beautiful second section with a marvellous part for solo soprano dialoguing with the chorus. The third motet O Nata Lux opens with high-lying soprano voices and progressively descends to the lowest range with basses ending on low C. The last motet O Rex Gloriae is again appropriately brilliant ending with jubilant Alleluias. This again is a real minor masterpiece and a very taxing virtuoso work but - above all - a marvellous piece of music. Both Except the Lord Build the House Op.89 No.2 and Veni Sancte Spiritus Op.96 are somewhat more ambitious in scope and are scored for larger forces calling for trumpets and percussion as well as organ, thus imparting these celebratory works with further brilliance. Except the Lord, however, is more complex in structure. The declamatory opening is offset by a middle section of great beauty in which sopranos sing a unison air above the quietly humming chorus. The piece ends with a powerful restatement of the opening material capped by exultant final blessings. This is another minor masterpiece as is the equally successful anthem Veni Sancte Spiritus Op.96 (first performed by the combined cathedral choirs of Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester conducted by Roy Massey). Significantly enough, though, the music is comparatively restrained in mood and expression although it appropriately includes several sections in which great choral outbursts powerfully and imaginatively suggest dazzling light through subtle dissonant voice layering (such as can be found in many choral works by Howells).

The rest of this attractive selection of Mathias’s shorter choral works consists of finely crafted shorter anthems composed for various occasions. Angelus for female voices and piano is one such little gem in which chant-like passages are answered by Hail Mary sung as a refrain. The brilliant Alleluia also features two trumpets to telling effect. Also worth mentioning is the setting of The Lord is my Shepherd for male voices and piano, sung in Welsh as well as Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, one of his very last pieces.

This wonderful release went largely unnoticed at the time of its release in 1998; unaccountably so, I must say, for it is a most welcome anthology, superbly performed and well recorded. A must for all Mathias fans. Others will find much to allure and admire. Now, we eagerly await a recording of Mathias’s last large-scale choral work World’s Fire.

Hubert Culot

see Mathias biography



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