Wednesday, 16 November 2011

William Mathias: Violin Sonata (1952)

This early Violin Sonata is a real treasure. To be sure, it is to a certain extent a ‘retro’ work with the composer writing in a highly charged romantic style that would have been largely anathema in the early ’fifties. Geraint Lewis suggest that this piece, written when the composer was eighteen years old. ‘represents a culmination of what he [Mathias] always referred to as his ‘juvenile’ phase.’ The work was first performed on 16 May 1953 with the violinist Edward Bor and the composer at the piano. However the performance history has not been straightforward. Mathias withdrew some two dozen ‘student’ works and these were not performed again. This included the Violin Sonata.
Towards the end of his life the composer did review his entire ‘compositional archive’ before it was prepared for presentation to the National Library of Wales. Some of the discarded works were singled out as possibilities for performance. However, Lewis assures us that the Violin Sonata was not amongst them. In 2008 representations were made to the composer’s estate and the present work was given a ‘trial run’ at the Wigmore Hall. All were agreed that the sonata is not representative of the composer’s work but it was felt that it was of ‘such astonishing power and originality as a self-taught pre-student work that it should be heard in that light’. It was duly ‘premiered’ at Galeri, Caernarfon on 2 July 2010.
The Sonata is in three well-balanced movements that are typically romantic in their outlook. Rob Barnett has noted that this sonata is in a trajectory from Howells, Ireland and Bax. I also agree with him that the sound-worlds of Cyril Scott and John Ireland permeate this work, however it never becomes pastiche.
I accept that this is not ‘typical’ Mathias - any more than most composers’ ‘early horrors’ are typical of their mature work. Yet this Sonata is excellent and enjoyable. Its parts are well balanced and the mood, whilst largely romantic is never kitsch. It is a work worthy of the composer and ought to be in the repertoire of many violinists.

This Violin Sonata can be heard on Naxos NAXOS 8.572292

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