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William MATHIAS (1934-1992)
Ave Rex, Op. 45a (1969) [12’50]. Elegy for a Prince, Op. 59b (1972) [16’59]. This Worlde’s Joie, Op. 67c (1974) [48’43]
bSir Geraint Evans (bass-baritone); cJanet Price (soprano); cKenneth Bowen (tenor); cMichael Rippon (baritone); aWelsh National Opera Chorus; aLondon Symphony Orchestra, bcNew Philharmonia Orchestra/bDavid Atherton, cSir David Willcocks.
Rec. aKingsway Hall in January-February 1973 (from Decca SXL6607); bWatford Town Hall, London, on April 14th, 1977 (Argo ZRG882); cAbbey Road Studios, London, on February 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th, 1976 (HMV ASD3301). ADD

As any one of the works on this disc reveals, William Mathias was completely and utterly at home writing for voices. It is an assurance that reaches its culmination in the staggering Cantata, This Worlde’s Joie. If I may be allowed a personal recollection, I well remember a performance of this work in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, in the presence of the composer, and being completely bowled over by it, and its appearance on CD is a real cause for celebration. It is a work of great strength, and also a work to treasure. Originally intended for the 1971 Fishguard Festival, it finally received its premiere in 1974. It was written with the soloists on the present recording in mind (the choral and orchestral forces at the premiere were the Dyfed Choir and the Welsh Philharmonia).

Mathias uses early English texts (some anonymous – identifiable authors are William Cornysh, Chaucer, John Skelton, born 1460, Robert Greene, 1560-1592 and Dunbar, born 1465). But the music is emphatically not from the mists of time. The bright, glittering opening is ample evidence of this. Mathias charts the seasons from Spring through Winter, simultaneously invoking Youth-Maturity-Decline-Death. Choral writing is everywhere completely assured, and everywhere Mathias’s ear for orchestration appears amazingly mature. Surely, surely, this work is Mathias’s masterpiece. Hearing it again, it is a mystery why live performances are not more widespread. Without doubt this impression is aided by the performance.

The chorus provides a ‘background’ onto which the soloists provide more immediate emotions; the boys’ choir make ‘comments’, often using carol-like texts. The soloists are uniformly exemplary. Janet Price will need no introduction; Michael Rippon has long been one of my favourite home-grown baritones. Of course Sir David Willcocks’ specialisation has always been choral music, so no surprise that he inspires The Bach Choir and St George’s Choristers to real heights. Geraint Evans in the excellent accompanying booklet sums it up perfectly – ‘There are occasional points of contact to the Britten of the Spring Symphony and the War Requiem and the Tippett of The Midsummer Marriage, but the essence of this ‘Act of Celebration’ is characteristically that of Mathias himself’. And how gripping and moving that essence is.

At nearly 50 minutes, This Worlde’s Joie makes up the bulk of this offering. Ave Rex (subtitled, ‘A Carol Sequence’) is much more than a make-weight, however. Its five movements are well-balanced. The second movement is very dynamic, very pointed (and receives a superb performance); the central setting of ‘There is no rose of such virtue’ is also the longest, and moves to an impressive climax. Without doubt, most people will know ‘Sir Christemas’.

It is a similar pleasure to encounter the well-loved Sir Geraint Evans in the 1972 work, Elegy for a Prince, composed in memoriam for Mathias’s father. The text is a Medieval Welsh elegy by the magnificently-named Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Coch (Griffith son of the Red Judge) for Llywelyn, ein Llyw Olaf (Llywelyn, the last native Prince of Wales). The actual musical material calls upon the slow movement of the Harp Concerto ( SRCD325 ). Evans is authoritative as well as warm-toned yet determined. Elegy for a Prince makes a fitting partner for This Worlde’s Joie.

The present disc makes the ideal complement to the disc of Mathias concertos on Lyrita. Recordings stem from a variety of sources, yet all do the greatest of service to Mathias’s music. Recommended.

Colin Clarke

William Mathias

The Lyrita catalogue


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