WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Oboe Concerto; Helios, Op. 76; Requiescat, Op.79
PERFORMER: David Cowley (oboe)BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Grant Llewellyn
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5343 DDD
William Mathias, who died in July aged 58, was a ‘mainstream’ composer to his fingertips. A highly intelligent eclectic, he combined many influences in a direct, unabashed synthesis. Hardly an idea in his First Symphony can’t be traced back to such figures as Walton or Tippett; yet Mathias bends them to his own purposes giving the work a vivid, sincere life of its own. His music is seldom profound: rather lyrical, energetic, colourful – but not without a bright vein of Celtic mysticism, drawing sustenance from his Welsh roots.
Nimbus’s timely disc presents excellent performances of four variously characteristic works. Helios, with its dark/bright oppositions of rhythm, register and sonority, and the deeply elegiac, impressive Requiescat, belong to the series of single-movement symphonic meditations which Mathias composed in the Seventies and referred to as ‘landscapes of the mind’. The other two are pieces from his last years: the Concerto for Oboe and Strings shows how, as recently as 1989, he could still find something effective to say in a broadly neoclassical idiom with occasional jazzy inflections. A form of the beautifully sculpted melody from its memorable slow movement reappears in the slow movement of the Third Symphony, one of Mathias’s last major works. At one level a bravura orchestral showpiece, it nevertheless generates considerable pain and tension; yet in a brazen though hardly optimistic finale, Mathias contrives to close his symphonic career in a blaze of defiant energy. Calum MacDonald