Mathias Symphony No.3

These recordings were made within two years of the composer’s death. Her conducted the works on the first and supervised those on the second. Mathias wrote three symphonies and did so at the ages of 32, 49 and 57. He completed the last symphony within a year of his death and after the recording sessions for the first disc. There is a Sinfonietta which was initially called ‘Dance Suite’ written in the same year as the First Symphony. The choice of works for these two discs was apt and practically motivated. Until then only the First Symphony had been commercially recorded. The Oboe Concerto was a recent work and Helios and Requiescat were needed to complete the discography of Mathias’s sequence of single movement orchestral works. 



In stock
Catalogue Number

The woodwind folk-dance segments of Helios (5.43) recall the Greek Dances of Skalkottas but also the more ambiguous and nuanced potency of Gordon Crosse's masterwork for oboe and orchestra Ariadne. There is a violent edge to this music whose tramping rawness is suggestive of the Cretan Minotaur. Many years before the same landscapes had inspired Carl Nielsen in his own Helios overture but the lambency of the Nielsen piece is very different from the engulfing flood of exultant light and danger that lends rampant power to Mathias's Helios even if at the end it fades into a chiming mysterious Baxian haze that links Druidic Cambria with Pagan Mediterranean pastures.

This brings us to Mathias's three movement Oboe Concerto. It is here played with a sort of impudent sweetness by David Cowley. The work was premiered by Sarah Francis for whom Ariadne had been written. The Mathias work is not as challenging for the listener as the Crosse but it is a glorious work whether in its cheerful lyricism or in its hypnotic and tender Baxian Adagio. The capering Vivace finale and for that matter the first movement are somewhat reminiscent of the Oboe Concerto by Malcolm Arnold but a shade more thorny.
The Third Symphony was a BBC commission and its first movement has the stamp of Stravinsky's Le Sacre and of the tricky pitched-blast opening of Tippett's Second Symphony. The central Lento might well remind you of one of Vaughan Williams long marches of Everyman perhaps suggestive of the indomitable spirit of man in the Sinfonia Antartica. For me there is about this work a sense of the ceremonial and invocatory. In the finale another aspect can be heard in the gaunt fanfaring that has so much in common with the remorseless tread of William Alwyn's Fifth Symphony Hydriotaphia on the words of Sir Thomas Browne - an author also referenced by Mathias in Requiescat.

 These recordings remain resplendent and detailed and achieve this regardless of the differing session venues. I was very pleased to be asked to review this pair of discs which remind us of the debt we owe to Nimbus. When they launched this series it may have seemed a left-field choice but the results repay the listener in bell-haunted spells, enchanted coinage and sturdy Celtic magic.

Rob Barnett -

© 2010-2023 Wyastone. All Rights Reserved.