William MATHIAS (1934-1992)
I Will Celebrate, for chorus (1988)* [8:32]
O How Amiable, Op 90/3 (1989)* [5:43]
Rex Gloriae, Four Latin motets for chorus, Op.83 (1980)* (i. Laetentur coeli [2:05]; ii. Victimae paschali [4:23]; iii. O nata lux [1:37]; iv. Rex gloriae [1:50])
Canzonetta for organ, Op.78/2 (1978)* [3:59]
Missa Aedis Christi, for chorus, Op. 92 (1984) (i. Kyrie [3:15]; ii. Gloria [4:57]; iii. Sanctus; Benedictus [3:06]; iv. Agnus Dei [4:16])
Jesus College Service, for chorus and organ, Op.53 (1971) (i. Magnificat (Song of Mary) [4:14]; ii. Nunc Dimittis (Simeonís Song) [2:50]) A Grace, Op 89/3 (1982)* [2:06]
Ave Rex, a carol sequence for chorus and organ, Op. 45 (1969) (i. Ave Rex [2:33]; ii. Alleluya, A new work is come on hand [1:45]; iii. There is no rose of such virtue [4:38]; iv. Sir Christmas [3:01])
As Truly as God Is Our Father, for chorus and organ (1987)* [6:20]
Let the people praise thee, O God, anthem for chorus, Op.87 (1981) - Royal Wedding Anthem [4:30]
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
Simon Lawford (organ)
rec. 14-15 February 1990, Leominster Priory, Herefordshire, England
*World premiere recordings
Texts and English translations provided
NIMBUS RECORDS NI 5243 [76:09]
 
In 2010 I had the good fortune to interview the internationally renowned pianist John Lill. I asked him ďWhich modern composers do you like to play?Ē He replied ďI like to play the music of William Mathias who died in the early nineteen-nineties. He was a great Welsh master.Ē A recommendation from such a prominent musician made me search out the music of William Mathias this ďgreat Welsh masterĒ. Subsequently I obtained a couple of rewarding discs of Mathiasís orchestral and solo piano music.
 
I cannot remember seeing Mathiasís music programmed all that often although the catalogue has a fair number of recordings from which to choose. Mathias wrote a considerable body of sacred choral works and this splendid Nimbus disc from 1990 is an important addition to the catalogue. The choir of Oxfordís 12th-century Christ Church Cathedral is 500 years old and was first directed in the reign of King Henry VIII by the distinguished Tudor composer John Taverner who was appointed by Cardinal Wolsey in 1526. Director Stephen Darlingtonís connection with the Christ Church began as organ scholar in the early 1970s. He has served as the choirís director of music since 1985.
 
The first work on this Mathias release is the substantial anthem I Will Celebrate. Composed in 1988 Mathias wrote it for the 150th anniversary celebrations of the First Presbyterian church in Davenport, Iowa in 1989. This is a forthright and highly confident work with the celebratory tones of the organ to open and close. A setting of Psalm 84 O How Amiable, composed in 1989, is a calm and highly devotional short motet in praise of the Lord. It has a prominent although intermittent organ part. Rex Gloriae is a set of four Latin motets for chorus completed in 1980. It was the Ardwyn Singers that introduced the score the next year at the Stuttgart Choral Festival. In the bright and upbeat Laetentur coel Mathias has set text by Roger Bray. Next the text by R.R. Terry and John Morehen of the Victimae paschali is a serious and slightly dark setting. The words relate how Christ died for us and was resurrected.
 
Laurence Housmanís text in the highly reverential O nata lux extols Jesus the redeemer of mankind. The text by John, Marquis of Bude, for O Rex gloriae for Ascension Day is given a joyous uplift. From 1978 the small-scale Canzonetta for organ is an attractive score suitable for an introduction to a church service. Commissioned by the Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford the Missa Aedis Christi, composed in 1984. is a setting of text from Psalms 89 and 90. The score bears a dedication to the memory of Sir William Walton, a former chorister at Christ Church Cathedral and undergraduate at the Christ Church College. He had died in 1983. In four movements the score opens with a soft-textured Kyrie gradually increasing in weight and pleading for Godís mercy. Exhorting praise to the Glory of God the Gloria is energetic and contains a variety of moods. Initially seeming rather disjointed the music of the Sanctus; Benedictus comes together beautifully. The final motet, Agnus Dei, comes across as a pious and sincere plea for peace.
 
The setting of the evening canticles for Evensong known as the Jesus College Service for chorus and organ was commissioned by Jesus College, Cambridge. It was in 1971 that the pair of canticles the Magnificat (Song of Mary) and Nunc Dimittis (Simeonís Song) was introduced there for the dedication service of the new John Mander organ. Confident and declamatory, the Magnificat contains mainly extrovert writing. In the generally meditative music of the Nunc Dimittis a central section comprises an ardent organ part that increases greatly in weight. Known as the Ave Rex the sequence of Christmas Carols for chorus and organ was a commission by the Cardiff Polyphonic Choir in 1969. The commissioning choir first sang the carols the same year at Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff. Those expecting Christmas Carols in the traditional sense will be disappointed as these are contemporary and contrasting takes on the Christmas theme. I found the strident Ave Rex unsettling and rather unappealing. The brief and vigorous Alleluya, A new work is come on hand was another somewhat disquieting score with the word Alleluya used repetitively. Solemn and fairly austere, There is no rose of such virtue has a central section with the organ gradually increasing in weight and intensifying the tension. A driving and rocking momentum in Sir Christmas combines with the repeated use of the word Nowell. For chorus and organ, As Truly as God Is Our Father is a rather wistful and devotional anthem to a text by Julian of Norwich, the medieval English anchoress. The Royal Wedding anthem Let the people praise thee, O God is a setting of Psalm 67. It was composed for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana at St. Paulís Cathedral, London in 1981. Mathias has created a stirring anthem which is joyous and highly uplifting, eminently suitable for an auspicious Royal occasion.
 
Personally I do not rank Mathiasís sacred choral music as having the same quality as English late-Romantic masters such as Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Walton and Howells but it is well crafted and worthy of attention. Britain has some outstanding choirs and this is one of the finest. These are simply radiant performances. The boy trebles rather dominate yet the overall blend of the voices is impressive offering a pleasing tonal colouring and firm ensemble. The sound quality is ideal, communicating a fine balance between immediacy and intimacy. Nimbus has done a fine job. I am pleased that texts and English translations are provided in the booklet. In short the singing is top-drawer.
 
Michael Cookson
 
A fine job. Top-drawer singing.