One of the greatest Welsh composers of the twentieth century, William Mathias (1934-1992) commenced his studies at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, and subsequently at the Royal College of Music where his teachers included Sir Lennox Berkeley (composition) and Peter Katin (piano). From 1970 to 1988 he was professor and head of the music department at the University of North Wales, Bangor. Active as a conductor, pianist and composer, he participated in several premieres of his own works, and was artistic director of the North Wales Music Festival from its inception in 1972 until his untimely death in 1992 aged only fifty-seven.
Mathias' output is indeed prodigious and ranges greatly from carols and church music to chamber and keyboard works and music for the theatre, cinema and television. His orchestral pieces include three completed symphonies, three piano concertos and one each for organ, harpsichord, harp, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and violin, and a series of atmospheric single-movement musical landscapes of the mind in the form of Laudi (1973), Vistas (1975), Hellos (1977) and Requiescat (1978). Other important works include three string quartets, two piano sonatas, an opera The Servants and three large-scale choral pieces: This World's Joie (1974), Lux Aeterna (1982) and World's Fire (1989).
Mathias' musical style was flexible enough to encompass highly effective miniature pieces. He believed in music as an expressive medium to be heard at its purest, and his finely crafted catalogue of songs is a prime example of this view. Mathias was also a master of writing idiomatically for every instrument and this is strongly evident in his works for small forms as it is in his orchestral output.
Listen — Mathias: Montmartre (Suite Parisienne)
(track 5, 0:00-0:48) © 2020 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
This excellent and generously filled CD includes thirteen pieces comprising six songs and seven instrumental pieces, among which the light hearted Parisienne Suite for two pianos, the brilliantly lyrical Capriccio for flute and piano and the excitingly rhapsodic Harp Sonata take pride of place.
Listen — Mathias: Allegro vivo (Harp Sonata)
(track 17, 0:00-0:56) © 2020 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
The jewel among the songs is Alun Llywelyn-Williams’ poem A Dream of Youth, considered by the composer to be one of the finest lyrical poems in modern Welsh.
Listen — Mathias: Pan Oeddwn Fachgen (A Dream of Youth)
(track 18, 0:00-0:56) © 2020 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
The disc gets its name from Henry Vaughan’s poem A Vision of Time and Eternity. Premiered by Helen Watts in 1972, who was also the dedicatee, the composer allows his musical imagination free rein, while always keeping to the spirit of the text. The work is cast in one unbroken span divided into several diverse sections, and in mood, texture and expression it commands interest throughout.
Listen — Mathias: A Vision of Time and Eternity
(track 2, 9:37-10:27) © 2020 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
This superb issue will undoubtedly raise Mathias' stock no end, and the splendid and sweetly unaffected performances certainly do no harm to the composer’s neo-classical language. Excellent analytical notes by Paul Conway complete an indispensable addition to the Mathias discography.
Copyright © 11 April 2020