Review By Mark L Lehman,American Record Guide,July 2011
William Mathias (1934–92) is a Welsh composer who wrote in a modern but tradition-based idiom with affinities to Britten and Walton as well as such continentals as Prokofieff, Stravinsky, and Bartok. His music is beautifully crafted and offers sharply-profiled themes, enriched-but-tonally anchored harmonies, transparent textures, vivid colors, vital (and often syncopated) rhythms, strong forward drive, clear formal logic, and immediate emotional appeal. Mathias quickly gained popularity in England, and though he is less often heard elsewhere, most audiences respond to him readily when they come across his works in concert or on records. I certainly do. There are many recordings, ranging from symphonies (three of them), many concertos, and much vocal music to a considerable
The two mature violin sonatas date from 1962 and 1984. Both are marvelous works that instantly grab the listener with bold, memorable ideas charged with dramatic urgency and nervous excitement. These are nicely played off against slower lyrical ideas that shimmer with sensuous, evocative mystery. Sara Trickey and Iwan Llewelyn-Jones play Mathias with muscular precision and verve, and are captured in appropriately bright, ultra-clear sonics that put a dazzling shine on his ringing, iridescent harmonies. As a bonus they add the first-ever recording of an early violin sonata that dates from 1952 when Mathias was still a teenager. The composer considered it immature and rejected the idea of its publication. The style is (for Mathias) somewhat old-fashioned and romantic, and clearly indebted to Howells, Ireland, Bax, and Bridge; in addition there are a few iffy spots where one wonders if the structural proportions are in perfect balance. But still, this is a distinguished and considerable sonata (with a nifty fugue in the finale) that many a fully formed composer would be happy to acknowledge, and I’ve no doubt that many will admire and enjoy hearing it, as I did.
Collectors may want to know that Mathias’s two mature sonatas are also on Koc…along with his First Piano Trio and some shorter pieces. That’s very well played but not nearly as vividly recorded as this new Naxos. The trio is well worth having, though, so dedicated fans of this composer (like me) will want both releases.