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Llŷr Williams takes on Mathias’s Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

William Mathias
Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3*; Ceremony after a Fire Raid†
Llŷr Williams (piano); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Grant Llewellyn; *William Mathias (piano); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Moshe Atzmon; †BBC National Chorus of Wales/Adrian Partington; Andrea Porter, Matt Hardy (percussion), Chris Williams (piano)
Tŷ Cerdd TCRO16

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The remarkable listening experience here comes not just from William Mathias’s music alone, for all its enduring qualities, but from the combination of this and his own piano-playing. Fluent pianists are of course not rare in the composing world. Mathias’s performance of the world premiere of his Third Concerto, recorded at the 1968 Swansea Festival, shows that his artistry was on a totally different level from this. The electricity he generates at the keyboard is straightforwardly thrilling; it also makes similar things happen around it, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra fired up by the occasion and responding in kind. Tŷ Cerdd (aka Music Centre Wales) deserves serious credit for resurrecting a performance and recording which, until now, few listeners can have known or remembered.

The work itself assimilates its rich range of stylistic worlds with a boldness which the earlier Second Concerto doesn’t quite achieve, although the connection here with Tippett’s Piano Concerto, openly and admiringly acknowledged by Mathias himself, conjures some beautiful lyrical flights in the first movement particularly; Llŷr Williams and BBC NOW’s live recording does excellent justice to a fine work by a then still young composer-pianist.

Written in 1973, Ceremony after a Fire Raid is a setting of Dylan Thomas’s poem for mixed voices, piano and percussion. While the music’s expressive world sounds less spontaneously imagined than in the two concertos, it’s incisively conveyed nonetheless. And the chorus responds to some serious technical demands (the work was originally written for solo voices) with the excellence that Welsh tradition leads you to expect.

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Malcolm Hayes