David Atherton / David Willcocks

William Mathias: Ave Rex; Elegy for a Prince; This Worlde's Joie

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Welsh composer William Mathias, active in the second half of the twentieth century, wrote in a variety of genres, but is perhaps best known for his choral music written for church performance. In those works, he brings a high level of musical sophistication to a field, which in its history is flooded with more than its fair share of mediocrity. Two of the works presented here are for concert presentation, and one of them has a religious theme and can be performed in churches with unusually proficient musicians. Mathias' music is notable for its brilliant and colorful orchestration and for its optimistic outlook. His harmonic and melodic language is most reminiscent of Tippett, but he is an eclectic and it's easy to hear influences of Messiaen and Stravinsky, as well as vestiges of the British cathedral anthem tradition. He writes with a lack of inhibition that shows he was not looking over his shoulder with much concern for either the approval of the academic music musical establishment or for public opinion.

The five movements of Ave Rex, A Carol Sequence, are notable for the diversity of their moods, from the exuberance of the opening and closing carols to the mystical serenity of "There is no Rose of such virtue." Elegy for a Prince, a solo scena for bass and orchestra based on ancient Welsh texts, demonstrates Mathias' dramatic gifts. (His only opera, The Servants, with a libretto by Iris Murdoch, has not been recorded.) Geraint Evans, accompanied by the New Philharmonia Orchestra led by David Atherton, sings with rich tone and gives a passionate performance. This World's Joie, a cantata for soloists and chorus, resembles Britten's Spring Symphony, but the vocal parts have a more prominent role and the music is brighter, more melodically memorable, and more celebratory. Soprano Janet Price, tenor Kenneth Bowen, and baritone Michael Rippon are consistently fine, offering strong, expressive characterizations. These compelling performances of Mathias' music should be of interest to fans of late twentieth century British music in the mold of Britten and Tippett. The sound of the recordings made in 1973 and 1977 is clean, allowing the details to emerge with clarity.

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