William MATHIAS (1934–1992)
Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 15 (1961) [15:28]
Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 94 (1983) [20:40]
Violin Sonata (1952) * [16:44]
Sara Trickey (violin); Iwan Llewelyn-Jones (piano)
rec. Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK, 18-20 August 2009
* World première recording
NAXOS 8.572292 [53:05]

The Welsh composer William Mathias has been well treated on disc. His teachers at the Royal Academy of Music were Lennox Berkeley and Peter Katin. The active Mathias discography is fairly broad though certain works remain prominent by their absence. These include the Violin Concerto – premiered by Gyorgy Pauk and soon forgotten - and the choral-orchestral works: the choral epithalamium World’s Fire, the opera The Servants, the masque St Teilo and the morality Jonah – interesting that, as Berkeley also wrote a major orchestral-vocal piece on the same subject innthe late 1930s. The magnificently extravagant This Worlde’s Joie is available on Lyrita having started out on EMI Classics. Chandos recorded his equally large-scale requiem-based Lux Aeterna. This Worlde’s Joie is another anthology work like Bliss’s Morning Heroes and The Beatitudes, Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and Hodie, Dyson’s Quo Vadis and Britten’s Spring Symphony. The string quartets are on Metier, the symphonies on Nimbus and many other orchestral works are on Lyrita and smattering on Nimbus.

The First Sonata was his first commission from the Cheltenham Festival. It is short, assertive and to the point. It’s as if there’s not a moment to waste. The sonata pours on the intensity in the first movement, is more hauntedly inward and troubled in the second movement with hints of Szymanowski. The third movement ends, rushing and passionate. The work was premiered in 1962 by Tessa Robbins and the pianist Robin Wood. It will be recalled that Robbins premiered the Goossens Phantasy Violin Concerto and recorded the Ireland Second Violin Sonata for Saga. Geraint Lewis tells us that Robin Wood had in 1961 premiered the Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Llandaff Festival. The Concerto remains unrecorded as does the First. The Third is on Lyrita. The Second Sonata, across its four movements, casts eerie Celtic spells and otherwise includes some furious and fantastic writing with something of a Hungarian edge to it. It was a commission from the Guild for the Promotion of Welsh Music for the Swansea Festival to mark Mathias’s fiftieth birthday. It was written with Erich Gruenberg and John McCabe in mind and first saw the public light of day at the Brangwyn Hall on 16 October 1984. The early unnumbered Violin Sonata was completed in 1952. It was premiered in 1953 at Aberystwyth University when violinist Edward Bor was joined by the composer. It’s a much more lyrically romantic piece than the other two and links more obviously with the British violin sonata tradition established by Ireland, Howells and Bax. It may be recalled that Bax is very strongly evoked in Mathias’s Elegy for a Prince. So it is here but with infusions from John Ireland and Cyril Scott.

Rob Barnett

Recording premieres of all three Mathias sonatas in performances that match sympathy and passion with resourcefully imaginative writing.