Mathias Orchestral Works
The untimely death of William Mathias in July 1992 (aged 57) robbed British music of one of its most natural communicators and consummate craftsmen. This new anthology offers a rewarding and varied portrait of a much-loved figure and also usefully plugs many gaps in his current discography.
Originally conceived for Helen Watts, the Songs of William Blake grew out of a commission for the 1979 Fishguard Festival (not far from the composer’s birthplace of Whitland). In the event, the vocal part lay too high for Watts and her place was taken by Alfreda Hodgson. Luminously scored for voice, celesta, harp, piano and strings, it’s a 34-minute setting of a dozen poems, all but two of which are drawn from the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Though his tone tends to harden under pressure, baritone Jeremy Huw Williams responds with such unstinting commitment that one can forgive his momentary misreading of Blake’s text in ‘London’.
I have no grumbles at all about David Pyatt’s dazzling assumption of the muscular and lyrical Concerto for horn, timpani and strings that the 50-year-old Mathias wrote in 1984 for the Northern Sinfonia’s then principal, Hugh Potts; Pyatt’s exemplary advocacy should win it many new friends. The affecting Threnos (1990) was written in memory of the late Lichfield Festival director Gordon Clarke.
This disc is the first by the Welsh Chamber Orchestra: established in 1986, they leave a very positive impression under their founder and principal conductor, Anthony Hose. Both recording and presentation leave nothing to be desired. A very likeable release.