Mathias: Songs of William Blake; Horn Concerto; Threnos; Intrada; Hobed o Hilion

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LABELS: Metronome
WORKS: Songs of William Blake; Horn Concerto; Threnos; Intrada; Hobed o Hilion
PERFORMER: Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone), David Pyatt (horn), Helen Davies (celesta), Elinor Bennett (harp), John Gibbons (piano), Graham Bradley (timpani); Welsh CO/Anthony Hose
The Welsh composer William Mathias would have been 70 this year, but died sadly young in 1992. The major work in this programme of premiere recordings, the 1979 Songs of William Blake, shows his ability to write singable if not always distinctively memorable melodic lines, his sensitivity to poetic metre and mood and his keen ear for sonority – especially in the colouring added to the basic string orchestra by piano, harp and celesta. But for all Jeremy Huw Williams’s exemplary concern for words and line, it might have been a mistake to assign a cycle designated for ‘mezzo-contralto’ to a baritone: in high-lying passages which a mezzo-soprano, at least, could have taken in her stride, Williams is forced to opt for either hectoring or crooning. Under its founder Anthony Hose, the Welsh Chamber Orchestra plays with spirit in the Blake cycle, provides excellent support to the brilliant David Pyatt in the 1984 Horn Concerto, which is (presumably coincidentally) permeated by Shostakovich’s D-S-C-H motto, and gives a strongly characterised account of the 1990 Threnos, a surprisingly varied elegy for strings. A good recording and authoritative annotation (in English and Welsh) enhance this valuable portrait of a much-missed figure. Anthony Burton