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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting combination, 23 Dec. 2011
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This review is from: Vaughan Williams: Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra / Mathias: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 (Audio CD)
William Mathias was one of a remarkable group of Welsh composers (including Daniel Jones, Alun Hoddinott and Grace Williams)active during the second half of the last century. Sadly, he died in his late fifties but left a substantial body of work. His music is tonal and has a clarity of line with light orchestral textures which render it highly accessible and enjoyable.

The first piano concerto is a fine work for such a young man. The piano writing is lean with a refreshing absence of octaves so beloved of the late romantics and the orchestral support is likewise transparent and unfussy. Every note counts. The fast, outer movements are rhythmic with inventive use of syncopation. The central slow movement is rather beautiful with, I felt, strong echoes of Bartok's nocturnal music and thought there was one direct quote.

The second concerto is equally enjoyable but is in four movements. The beginning of the first one strongly reminded me of Tippett's Midsummer Marriage but Mathias soon bends the material to his own ends.

Vaughan Williams Fantasy for piano and orchestra (1896-1902) is his first known orchestral work and joins a clutch of pieces from his early years which have now been recorded, filling in the gaps of the crucial decade until the Sea Symphony of 1909 and the Tallis Fantasia of 1910. All these works show Vaughan Williams as an accomplished composer in the technical sense but the strikingly original voice had yet to appear. With hindsight, one can see glimpses of the mature artist but the crucial elements - English folk song, Tudor hymnody and the period of study with Ravel - were still missing.

The Fantasy is no masterpiece but is enjoyable if a little anonymous. The Brahmsian piano writing is nevertheless convincing, and the opening of the piece, with the repeated loud, orchestral chords followed by a zig-zag descending piano phrase, is arresting. This is followed by a grave, rather noble hymn-like theme which made me think of The Pilgrim's Progress of decades later. These materials seem to be the basis for the rest of the composition which is in six sections, defined by tempo.

Mark Bebbington, a great promoter of British piano music, gives excellent performances, well supported by George Vass and the Ulster Orchestra. The CD is well recorded and presented.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Jan 2012 18:52:36 GMT
It is reviews like yours which make me explore unknown pieces or composers. They are informed with knowledge and love of music. Ref. RVW and many others I doubt that there are great masterpieces to be discovered but there are many neglected good works, composers and ones like the RVW which give an insight to the greater composer to come. Thank you. Tom Kent.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jan 2012 12:32:23 GMT
Thank you for your kind remarks - they are much appreciated.
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