have always been an enthusiast of William Mathias’s music ever
since I heard the organ piece ‘Jubilate’ played in Llandudno’s
Ebenezer Methodist Church over thirty years ago. Of course back
in those days there was little available on LP. However there
was an edition of the complete organ works which I listened
to often, lent to a friend and subsequently lost. There were
also a few orchestral works on a number of compilations. It
was not until Nimbus issued the three Symphonies that I heard
a major work. And of course the Lyrita CDs available from Harold
Moore’s Records add considerably to the Mathias catalogue. However
I had never heard the Piano Sonatas until this present review
copy landed on my doorstep.
although Mathias was an excellent pianist he did not compose
much for the piano (for this purpose we will not include the
three concertos!) I have been unable to see a complete works
list, so I do not know what other pieces are hidden in the detail.
However, according to the programme notes there are only four
pieces – the two sonatas given here and a couple of miniatures.
Which leads me to my one and only criticism of this CD. It last
a good 66 minutes, but surely the producers could have squeezed
these ‘minor’ works on to give us a complete review of the composer’s
Mathias’s Sonata No. 1 was composed in 1963. The model for this
work is usually regarded as Michael Tippett’s Second Sonata
(1962); however there is no question of cribbing or pastiche.
This is very much Mathias’s own music. The programme notes quote
the musicologist Malcolm Boyd saying that this is ‘a work of
tremendous power and sinew – one of the most masculine of all
Mathias’s pieces.’ He goes on to add that the contrast between
the aggressive energy of the first and third movement and the
dreamy rhapsodising of the central one ‘illustrates the two
facets of Mathias’s dual musical personality – the fervent Welshman
and the urbane cosmopolitan.’ It is this contrast which makes
the piece for me. The closing pages refer back to the opening
and provide the unity of purpose which makes this an extremely
convincing work. A fine addition to the superb (but largely
unknown) corpus of British Piano Sonatas.
Second Sonata is composed in the Lisztian model of a single
movement. The idea being that the traditional exposition, development
and recapitulation of classical sonata form are largely equated
with the equally classical three movements. Mathias writes
a slow-fast–slow structure that allows the opening theme to
be restated in the closing pages. There has been criticism that
this work alludes to harmonic language of Messiaen. But the
reality is that this is a work of its time. Any references to
the French composer (or anyone else) are incidental. This is
very much Mathias’s own music and as such it is a masterpiece.
One only has to think back to the late sixties and early seventies
to think of some of the stuff that passed as music to thank
goodness that Mathias wrote in an approachable, if somewhat
challenging style. This music, like much of Messiaen, is timeless.
There can be no better recommendation.
Mr John Pickard’s own words his Piano Sonata is overtly political.
It was composed in 1987 as an ‘attempt to give voice to my fury’
against Margaret Thatcher. Yet the main problem it causes is
that it ‘dates’ the work and ties it to a particular milieu.
If I was Pickard I would be inclined to dump the ‘programme’
and allow people to judge this work as absolute music. If we
are allowed to do this we find that this is actually a fine
example of late 20th century piano music that beats
much of the opposition for technical difficulty, interest and
sheer power and energy. The work is conveniently divided into
two parts – the first being predominantly slow and the second
fast. Part 2 is slightly shorter in length and is a concatenation
of three toccatas. Much use is made of ostinato motifs and complex
technical figurations. The work finishes in a blaze of colour
in A major. Perhaps, as a pendant to this work, Pickard ought
to write a piece praising the achievements of Gordon, Tony and
Starlit Dome is a completely different
kettle of fish. This work was written in response to a commission
from the Criccieth Festival in 1995. Pickard writes, rather
glibly in his programme notes that the quotation from W. B.
Yeats’ Byzantium sums ups the essence of the Universe:-
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is
All mere complexities.
The fury and the mire of human veins.
that 4000 years of cosmological effort had found it so easy!
The music is a ‘nocturne’ although rather different to Field
or Chopin! It is a particularly beautiful work that displays
a confident but restrained pianistic writing. Once again the
programme notes elaborate a metaphysical ‘programme’ for this
work that would be better forgotten. However, a very attractive
piece, that deserves to be played.
must confess I had not heard of Raymond Clarke. And this I find
surprising when one considers his sheer ability as proved on
this disc. A look at the record catalogue shows that he has
been quite busy – he has some 10 CDs to his credit. These include
some major contributions to 20th century music. This
includes the complete piano works of Havergal Brian and Robert
Simpson, recordings of essential works by Copland and Szymanowski
and Andrzej Panufnik. On the concert circuit he has been active
in Wales with a performance of the rarely heard Hoddinott First Piano Concerto.
He commissioned the fine 10th Piano Sonata from this
playing is stunning on this present CD. None of these works
are easy – in fact they are all virtuosic pieces. There is no
doubt that this repertoire is totally agreeable to Raymond Clarke.
He plays this music with sympathy and technical aplomb.
is an important contribution to 20th century British
Music. The Mathias sonatas are stunning examples of the genre
and deserve a solid place in the repertoire.
see also Review
on Mathias by David Wright