Notes and Editorial Reviews
Recording premieres of all three Mathias sonatas in performances that match sympathy and passion with resourcefully imaginative writing.
Violin Sonatas: No. 1; No. 2. Violin Sonata (1952)
Sara Trickey (vn); Iwan Llewelyn-Jones (pn)
NAXOS 8.572292 (53:05)
Violinist Sara Trickey and pianist Iwan Llewelyn-Jones have paired the Welsh composer William
Mathias’s two canonical violin sonatas with an early work that, according to Geraint Lewis’s notes, Mathias himself resolutely withheld from publication. But the composer’s estate granted permission for its inclusion on this recording, so listeners will enjoy what will perhaps be a unique opportunity to hear this bit of juvenilia.
The program begins with the First Violin Sonata, op. 15, the premiere of which the notes date to 1962. Despite its brash opening and its spiky dissonances, the 15-odd-minute, three-movement sonata remains accessible, firmly situated in the penumbra of tonality and depending for its effect on stark rhythmic and melodic contrasts. Trickey and Llewelyn-Jones explore these contrasts effectively in the first movement; they’re appropriately bracing in the jagged passages and suggestive in the lyrical ones. They take advantage of the opportunities the plaintive and at times haunting second movement provides for introspection and bring the movement to a sensitive and magical conclusion. After the brief slow introduction, they give a rhythmically infectious performance of the Stravinsky-like finale, with its jaunty repetitions of short motives.
The four-movement and a bit longer Second Sonata, according to the notes, received its premiere in 1984, when the composer had reached the age of 50 (the Guild for the Promotion of Welsh Music commissioned the work for that birthday). Its first movement combines its dissimilar elements in proportions similar to those of the First Sonata’s corresponding movement, except perhaps for the inclusion of motoric passages in the piano. The second movement takes the form of a brusque, two-odd-minute scherzo (similar but more biting than that in Serge Prokofiev’s Second Violin Sonata), and the duo revels in its rhythmic energy. The slow movement begins with a passage with the violin on the G string in which Trickey’s tone approaches a rich viola-like huskiness; the passage consists largely of an extended and somewhat dour rumination. Rhythmic elements return to the fore in the finale, which the performers turn into a virtuosic romp, which nevertheless, like most of the other movements, veers suddenly off into reflection.
If, as the notes suggest, Mathias declined on several occasions to publish the sonata from 1952, the argument that it reveals a stage in his early development, together with the effect of the work itself in a private performance given before the recording took place, seems a natural one based on Trickey’s and Llewelyn-Jones’s convincing advocacy. The first of the three movements,
, remains firmly within the traditional harmonic system, but its rhythmic vitality and moving lyrical outpourings foreshadow what would come. Perhaps the work’s tonality influenced the composer to omit it from a collection of his complete works; if so, in the new environment, more tolerant of consonance and harmonic centers, he might have made a different decision. The second movement soars without the slightest affectation of sentiment, in the music or in the performance; and the finale includes a dogged marchlike passage that in particular looks forward to the later works.
Naxos’s engineers have created a more vivid presence for Trickey and Llewelyn-Jones than Koch’s did for violinist Michael Davis and pianist Nelson Harper, who included Mathias’s two numbered violin sonatas in their collection of the composer’s chamber works on 3-7326-2 H1 (
20:3); in fact, Trickey’s performances also seem closer up, magnifying the works’ plentiful detail and making each of their many gestures with the boldness of a pugilist—and by comparison, some of Davis’s expressivity seems relatively muted. (Still, Naxos’s engineers have balanced the violin and piano with neither particularly far in the foreground.) The addition of the early sonata should make Naxos’s program irresistible to those interested in investigating Mathias’s engaging, spring-fresh
, but it should easily capture and hold the attention of general listeners as well. Stodgy it’s not, but, in fact, a captivating recital, strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
The Welsh composer William Mathias has been well treated on disc. His teachers at the Royal Academy of Music were Lennox Berkeley and Peter Katin. The active Mathias discography is fairly broad though certain works remain prominent by their absence. These include the Violin Concerto – premiered by Gyorgy Pauk and soon forgotten - and the choral-orchestral works: the choral epithalamium
World’s Fire, the opera
The Servants, the masque
St Teilo and the morality
Jonah – interesting that, as Berkeley also wrote a major orchestral-vocal piece on the same subject innthe late 1930s. The magnificently extravagant
This Worlde’s Joie is available on Lyrita having started out on EMI Classics. Chandos recorded his equally large-scale requiem-based
This Worlde’s Joie is another anthology work like Bliss’s
Morning Heroes and
The Beatitudes, Vaughan Williams’
Dona Nobis Pacem and
Quo Vadis and Britten’s
Spring Symphony. The string quartets are on Metier, the symphonies on Nimbus and many other orchestral works are on Lyrita and smattering on Nimbus.
First Sonata was his first commission from the Cheltenham Festival. It is short, assertive and to the point. It’s as if there’s not a moment to waste. The sonata pours on the intensity in the first movement, is more hauntedly inward and troubled in the second movement with hints of Szymanowski. The third movement ends, rushing and passionate. The work was premiered in 1962 by Tessa Robbins and the pianist Robin Wood. It will be recalled that Robbins premiered the Goossens
Phantasy Violin Concerto and recorded the Ireland Second Violin Sonata for Saga. Geraint Lewis tells us that Robin Wood had in 1961 premiered the Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Llandaff Festival. The Concerto remains unrecorded as does the First. The Third is on Lyrita. The
Second Sonata, across its four movements, casts eerie Celtic spells and otherwise includes some furious and fantastic writing with something of a Hungarian edge to it. It was a commission from the Guild for the Promotion of Welsh Music for the Swansea Festival to mark Mathias’s fiftieth birthday. It was written with Erich Gruenberg and John McCabe in mind and first saw the public light of day at the Brangwyn Hall on 16 October 1984. The early unnumbered
Violin Sonata was completed in 1952. It was premiered in 1953 at Aberystwyth University when violinist Edward Bor was joined by the composer. It’s a much more lyrically romantic piece than the other two and links more obviously with the British violin sonata tradition established by Ireland, Howells and Bax. It may be recalled that Bax is very strongly evoked in Mathias’s
Elegy for a Prince. So it is here but with infusions from John Ireland and Cyril Scott.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Violin and Piano by William Mathias
Sara Trickey (Violin),
Iwan Llewelyn-Jones (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
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