WILLIAM MATHIAS: Piano Concertos 1 and 2; VAUGHN WILLIAMS: Fantasia for Piano and Orch. – Mark Bebbington, piano/ Ulster Orch./Vass – SOMM

by | May 28, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

WILLIAM MATHIAS: Piano Concertos 1 and 2; VAUGHN WILLIAMS: Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra – Mark Bebbington, piano/ Ulster Orch./Vass – SOMM CD246 [Distr. by Albany] 70:42 ****:
When Welsh composer William Mathias (1934-92) was asked in a 1985 interview whether his music was Welsh or not, he deflected the question to a larger issue: “whatever the music is like, is it good, and in Stravinsky’s phrase, is it wanted? …if nobody needs it, what’s the point?” His answer is a clue to the music he composed: a tonally-based harmony, rhythmically invigorating, and neo-classically structured. Influenced by Bartok, Stravinsky, Gershwin, Britten and Tippett, it was essential to him that his music communicated to the audiences that listened. His large output included three symphonies, church and choral music (which received wide acclaim), and several concertos.
Mathias’ First Piano Concerto (1955) was written while he was a student at Aberystwyth University, but he withdrew it after several performances. But he revised it, and published it before his death in 1992. The outer movements are rhythmically incisive, with an infectious energy generated by contrast between lyrical and jagged thematic material. The hauntingly beautiful lento middle movement’s theme is very reminiscent of the first movement of Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. It’s an outstanding initial effort for the young student.
The Second Piano Concerto (1961) in four movements is lighter in mood, with more lyrical content and more sophisticated use of counterpoint and orchestral textures. There is vigorous rhythmic material in the allegro molto vivace and a reflective slow movement that touches a core of melancholia before rising to a majestic conclusion. The rollicking dance of the last movement finishes on a rousing note. While both of these concertos are worth hearing, a more representative sample of Mathias would be the gorgeous Lyrita recording of three concertos – the Third Piano Concerto and the Clarinet and Harp Concertos.
A group of early Vaughan Williams’(1872-1958) works were lost to the musical world until his widow lifted the ban on their performances. Included were his String Quartet of 1897, the Piano Quintet of 1898 and the Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra of 1896-1904, among others. The Fantasia is his first orchestral composition, more typical of Brahms and Grieg than Vaughan Williams. But it’s a pleasant piece, in one movement with six sections. Perhaps it was added to the CD because all the compositions claim to be world premiere recordings. Mark Bebbington plays all three works on this disc with authority and panache and the orchestral playing and recording are excellent.
—Robert Moon

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