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William MATHIAS (1934-1992)
Symphony No.1 Op.31 (1966) [31:00]
Symphony No.2 (Summer Music) Op.90 (1983) [28:17]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/William Mathias
rec. Great Hall, Birmingham University, No. 1: 25 March 1990; No. 2: 18 March 1990. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5260 [59.25]

 

William MATHIAS (1934-1992)
Helios, Op. 76 (1977) [15.02]
Oboe Concerto (1989) [16:26]
Requiescat, Op. 79 (1977) [8.51]
Symphony No. 3 (1991) [31:24]
David Cowley (oboe)
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Grant Llewellyn
rec. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, 11 November 1991; 11 February 1992. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5343 [72.22]

Experience Classicsonline

 

These recordings were made within two years of the composer’s death. Her conducted the works on the first and supervised those on the second.

Mathias wrote three symphonies and did so at the ages of 32, 49 and 57. He completed the last symphony within a year of his death and after the recording sessions for the first disc. There is a Sinfonietta which was initially called ‘Dance Suite’ written in the same year as the First Symphony. This was for the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra who were conducted by that orchestral and repertoire pioneer Eric Pinkett (1911-1979). It was recorded by them in 1968 on Pye LP GSGC 14103 but re-recorded in 1975 by the National Youth Orchestra of Wales/Arthur Davison.

The choice of works for these two discs was apt and practically motivated. Until then only the First Symphony had been commercially recorded. The Oboe Concerto was a recent work and Helios and Requiescat were needed to complete the discography of Mathias’s sequence of single movement orchestral works. Laudi and Vistas, both inventive companions from the 1970s had already been recorded in 1977 by Decca-Argo and reissued by Lyrita on SRCD328. It was only a pity that the Violin Concerto (1992) could not have been added; it still awaits a commercial premiere recording as do Litanies and the final major choral work World’s Fire.

Nimbus and Lyrita are now united by the Wyastone Estate Limited stable. The two record labels have contributed decisively indeed miraculously to the grown and growing reputation of Welsh composer William Mathias. The three Lyrita discs present recordings licensed from RCA, EMI, Pye and Decca-Argo. The Nimbus discs clustering around the present brace have built a resilient and successful niche for Mathias. The Nimbus and Lyrita CDs are a perfect complement to each other. There is no overlap.

The Welsh composer wrote three half hour symphonies of which the First Symphony launches the trilogy in an outburst of effervescence and exuberance. It was a commission from the Llandaff Festival and was premiered by the CBSO conducted by Hugo Rignold in the year in which the same forces recorded the John Blow Meditation and Music for Strings for Lyrita.

The composer's description of the First Symphony is apt: a work of energy, colour and affirmation. Here is positively blazes and rocks with a sanguine power which momentarily recalls Tippett's propulsive Second Symphony, William Schuman's Third Symphony finale and the thrawn and rowdy bustle of the Easter Fair of Stravinsky's Petrushka. Earlier movements show the lavishly stocked and brooding influence of Bax.

The Second Symphony might easily be dubbed 'The Mystical' or, given the Welsh DNA of the piece, 'The Druidic' or 'Taliesin'. Mathias was always something of a magus when it came to the orchestra and had a facility for rapidly grasping of atmosphere. The three movements glimmer and shimmer with the essence of Summer. This is expressed through the easy-wheeling progress of the stars in a summer sky in the middle movement. This process rises majestically from ease to effort in an antiphonal crest of brass fanfaring at 4:49 onwards (tr. 3). The all-conquering onrush of summer is expressed through the finale the score for which carries the superscription: "My ark sings in the sun / At God speeded summer's end / And the flood flowers on." Throughout Mathias's orchestration rings, chimes and peals through a world often noticeably indebted to the Bax symphonies.

The two Mathias symphonies are conducted by the composer who was unable to serve in this capacity for the second disc. He was however in attendance and supervised the 1991-2 Nimbus sessions.

Beyond the symphonies, yet of equal dynamic and psychological moment, are Mathias's 'landscapes of the mind'. These single movement orchestral statements may well contain the quintessential Mathias. They are Litanies, Laudi, Vistas, Helios and Requiescat. Two of these are on this second disc. The Laudi and Vistas are on Lyrita SRCD 328.

Helios is inscribed to the memory of the Welsh composer Grace Williams who died on 10 February 1977. The Mathias work was premiered by the RLPO who had recorded several Grace Williams LPs for EMI in the early 1970s - those recordings can be heard on Lyrita SRCD 327 and SRCD 323. The music of Helios was inspired by the composer's holiday in Greece in 1975 in much the same way that Vistas was brought about through Mathias's visit to the USA during the early 1970s. The woodwind folk-dance segments of Helios (5.43) recall the Greek Dances of Skalkottas but also the more ambiguous and nuanced potency of Gordon Crosse's masterwork for oboe and orchestra Ariadne. There is a violent edge to this music whose tramping rawness is suggestive of the Cretan Minotaur. Many years before the same landscapes had inspired Carl Nielsen in his own Helios overture but the lambency of the Nielsen piece is very different from the engulfing flood of exultant light and danger that lends rampant power to Mathias's Helios even if at the end it fades into a chiming mysterious Baxian haze that links Druidic Cambria with Pagan Mediterranean pastures.

Requiescat is another of the composer's 'inscapes' which alongside Laudi and Litanies suggest through their titles a religious underpinning. As heard before in the first two symphonies Mathias there are echoes of the bleak-warmth of Bax's Fifth Symphony and the cold gales of Tapiola. Other episodes suggest that the insect rustling opening of Martinů's Sixth Symphony had lodged deep in the composer's psyche. Requiescat is the shortest of the inscapes.

I mentioned Crosse's Ariadne earlier - a magnificent work on Lyrita SRCD 259. This brings us to Mathias's three movement Oboe Concerto. It is here played with a sort of impudent sweetness by David Cowley. The work was premiered by Sarah Francis for whom Ariadne had been written. The Mathias work is not as challenging for the listener as the Crosse but it is a glorious work whether in its cheerful lyricism or in its hypnotic and tender Baxian Adagio. The capering Vivace finale and for that matter the first movement are somewhat reminiscent of the Oboe Concerto by Malcolm Arnold but a shade more thorny.

The Third Symphony was a BBC commission and its first movement has the stamp of Stravinsky's Le Sacre and of the tricky pitched-blast opening of Tippett's Second Symphony. The central Lento might well remind you of one of Vaughan Williams long marches of Everyman perhaps suggestive of the indomitable spirit of man in the Sinfonia Antartica. For me there is about this work a sense of the ceremonial and invocatory. In the finale another aspect can be heard in the gaunt fanfaring that has so much in common with the remorseless tread of William Alwyn's Fifth Symphony Hydriotaphia on the words of Sir Thomas Browne - an author also referenced by Mathias in Requiescat.

These recordings remain resplendent and detailed and achieve this regardless of the differing session venues.

Nimbus did not stop their Mathias mission with these two discs either. They have also recorded the Organ Music (NI5367) and Choral Music (NI5243) – there’s more too.

I was very pleased to be asked to review this pair of discs which remind us of the debt we owe to Nimbus. When they launched this series it may have seemed a left-field choice but the results repay the listener in bell-haunted spells, enchanted coinage and sturdy Celtic magic.

 

Rob Barnett

 

WILLIAM MATHIAS
Symphonies Nos 1 & 2

NIMBUS NI 5260 [59.25]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra
William Mathias, conductor
1 Symphony No.1, Op.31 I Allegro moderato 7.55
2 II Vivace 3.38
3 III Molto Adagio, sempre flessibile 11.19
4 IV Largamente - Allegro con brio 8.08
World premiere recording
5 Symphony No.2 (Summer Music), Op.90 I Aestiva Regio (Summer Region)
Molto moderato e misterioso - Allegro 12.50
6 II ('A'm gwlad gysefin yw bro sêr-hefin...')
('My original country is in the region of the summer stars...')
Lento molto - Lento - Molto moderato 7.27
7 III 'My ark sings in the sun
At God-speeded summer's end
And the flood flowers now'
Allegro non troppo, sempre molto ritmico 8.00
NIMBUS NI 5343 [72.22]
1 Helios, Op. 76 15.02
2 Oboe Concerto (1989) I Allegro non troppo 4.27
3 II Adagio espressivo 6.28
4 III Vivace 5.31
5 Requiescat, Op. 79 8.51
6 Symphony No. 3 (1991) I Allegro moderato 9.01
7 II Lento appassionato 11.00
8 III Allegro non troppo, e risoluto 11.23

 

 

 


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