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World Premiere Recordings of Vaughan Williams andWilliam Mathias

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Catalogue No: SOMMCD 246
Release Date: 03/01/2011
Number of Discs: 1
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Another spectacular coup for SOMM is the recording and release of the world premiere of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasy for Piano & Orchestra (Manuscript edited by Dr. Graham Parlett) coupled with two more first recordings, the  William Mathias’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (edited by the composer’s daughter, Dr. Rhiannon Mathias and Geraint Lewis) and Mathias’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

Ulster Orchestra
George Vass – Conductor
Mark Bebbington – Piano

“Much has been learned about Vaughan Williams’s early development as a composer since his widow’s decision to lift the ban on performance and publication of several large scores which he had withdrawn or laid aside at about the time of his return from the First World War in 1919.

In a letter in June 1903 to the critic Edwin Evans, he included a list of my “most important works”. For years writers on Vaughan Williams have singled out mainly songs ( eg Linden Lea, 1901) to illustrate his progress at this time. No writer in, say, 1958 would have mentioned (because they did not know they existed) a string quartet of 1897, the Serenade of 1898, the piano quintet of 1898, The Garden of Proserpine of 1901 for soprano, chorus and orchestra, Heroic Elegy (1901), Bucolic Suite (1900), and the Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra. Today these works have been performed, some of them have been published and recorded, and the result is that we can hear a Vaughan Williams even more wide‑ranging than we had guessed.” (Excerpt from CD liner notes by Michael Kennedy).

The single-movement Fantasia (1896-1902, revised 1904) contains arresting insights into the musical influences, inventive outlook and technical development that helped shape its young creator’s mature artistic personality. Vaughan Williams began work on the Fantasia in 1896, possibly during his second spell as a student at the Royal College of Music in London, revised the piece six years later and made additional refinements in the summer and autumn of 1904. Its carefully copied manuscript was deposited in the British Library, removed from circulation by the composer’s widow and boldly marked in her hand with the word ‘withdrawn’ in red ink.

Mark Bebbington, like generations  of performers before him, knew nothing of the Fantasia. The vital spark that led to the work’s debut on disc was embedded in a review of the pianist’s SOMM recording of Rawsthorne and Ferguson piano concertos. “The critic asked if SOMM and I might be interested in investigating the Vaughan Williams Fantasia, which immediately sparked our interest,” he recalls. “I’d never heard of it, even though it does appear in the standard catalogue of the composer’s works.” Siva Oke, SOMM’s owner and recording producer, swiftly contacted the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust to confirm the work’s existence. She was delighted to discover that it was both genuine and readily accessible. Bebbington soon visited the British Library, called up the score and decided within minutes that it was worth recording. “There’s such an obvious degree of care and dedication invested in the piece,” he says.

Nobody knows for whom the Fantasia was written, or why the piece was shelved, although we can be sure the piece was never performed. Its revival owes much to Mark Bebbington’s determined hard work, SOMM’s active and insightful support and the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust’s decision to allow formerly suppressed pieces to emerge from obscurity. “I’m at one with their desire to promote ‘withdrawn’ compositions globally and let concert audiences and record listeners decide for themselves,” Bebbington comments. “We’re not dealing with a buried masterpiece with the Fantasia. But there is such an obvious degree of care and dedication invested in the piece, and it  clearly points the way to later works and the genius to come.”

The Fantasia’s range of stylistic influences and musical gestures, observes Mark Bebbington, testifies to Vaughan Williams’ intellectual curiosity and the wide scope of his search for self-identity as a composer. Youthful exploration also lies at the heart of the CD’s coupling s– William Mathias’s  Piano Concerto No.1 and Piano Concerto No.2. “The Mathias concertos are extraordinary compositions,” Bebbington notes. “You can hear a young man taking on Bartók and coming up with something really very striking in both these Concertos.”

The Concerto form always held a fascination for my father, writes Dr. Rhiannon Mathias. His compositional output was regularly punctuated with Concertos – three for piano, one for orchestra, one each for flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, horn, organ, harp and harpsichord.  He wrote his Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 2, in 1955 when he was a student at Aberystwyth University, and ‘premiered’ the work (the solo part together with his own orchestral reduction) in 1956 as part of his B. Mus compositional ‘exercise’: Edmund Rubbra, the external examiner, was, by all accounts, taken aback and promptly awarded him a First Class degree! In that same year, my father won an open scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London, to study composition with Lennox Berkeley and piano with Peter Katin.

The public premiere of the First Concerto took place in London on 19 May 1957 when it was performed by the composer (then in his second year at the Academy), the London Welsh Orchestra and Rhoslyn Davies (conductor). Even though several more performances were given in the 1950s, my father chose to withdraw the work. Shortly before his death in 1992, however, he rediscovered the piece and agreed to consider it for publication pending minor revisions.  Although composed when he was just 20 years old, Mathias musical fingerprints – in particular,  acerbic harmonies and syncopated rhythms – already mark this remarkably assured score.

The Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 13, is the first expression of an important and more mature phase in my father’s creative development. Commissioned by the Welsh Committee of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Concerto was premiered at the 1961 Llandaff Festival by Robin Wood, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Meredith Davies (conductor). Unlike its predecessor, this four-movement piece is primarily concerned with lyrical qualities and with the spirit of dance but it also contains music of dramatic power, intense and ornate in expression.

Mark Bebbington is fast gaining a reputation as one of today’s most strikingly individual young British pianists. His recent discs of British music for SOMM’s “NewHorizons” series have met with unanimous critical acclaim and his   recordings of John Ireland Vols. 1, 2 and 3  and Frank Bridge Volume 3  have received 5***** in BBC Music Magazine. Over recent seasons Mark has toured extensively throughout Central and NorthernEurope, the Far East and North Africa and has performed at major UK venues with the London Philharmonic, Philharmonia and London Mozart Players. As a recitalist he makes regular appearances at major UK and International Festivals. Recipient of numerous international awards and prizes, including a LeverhulmeScholarship and a Winston Churchill Fellowship, Mark studied at the Royal College of Music with Phyllis Sellick and Kendall Taylor and in Italy with Aldo Ciccolini.

George Vass was born in Staffordshire and studied at the Birmingham Conservatoire and the Royal Academy of Music; he made his professional conducting debut at St John’s Smith Square, London at the age of twenty-two. As artistic director of the Regent Sinfonia of London and Orchestra Nova he has appeared at many of the United Kingdom’s premierconcert halls and festivals. As a guest conductor he has worked with groups including the Bournemouth Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Royal Scottish National orchestras, the Ulster Orchestra, Amsterdams Promenade Orkest, Konzertensemble Salzburg, Joyful Company of Singers, London Mozart Players, among others.

He has broadcast for BBC Radio 3 and Channel 4 television. George Vass was appointed artistic director of the critically acclaimed Presteigne Festival in Wales in 1992 and from 2004 until 2009 held a similar position with London’s Hampstead and Highgate Festival. In his dual career as conductor and festival director, George Vass maintains a strong interest in the performance of contemporary music, and has commissioned and premiered a wide variety of new works from leading composers including David Matthews, John McCabe, Cecilia McDowall, Paul Patterson, Adrian Williams and Hugh Wood. His wide-ranging discography includes many world premiere recordings of British music for the Dutton Epoch, Guild, SOMM and Toccata Classics labels.

Established in 1966, the Ulster Orchestra is Northern Ireland’s only professional symphony orchestra and a cornerstone of its diverse cultural life. The Orchestra has established itself as one of the major symphony orchestras in the United Kingdom and Ireland and gives 80-90 performances each year with its new Principal Conductor, JoAnn Falletta.

Hungarian-born Tamás Kocsis  leads the UO’s 62 full-time musicians whose main concert season takes place in the Ulster Hall and the Belfast Waterfront from September to June.The Orchestra also performs at venues across Northern Ireland and beyond, in places as diverse as the Alley Theatre in Strabane, the Royal Albert Hall in London, the National Concert Hall in Dublin, the Millennium Forum in Derry/Londonderry and the gardens of Hillsborough Castle. The Orchestra’s major funding partners include the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the BBC (which celebrates a 30 year fruitful partnership with the Orchestra during the2011-2012 Season) and Belfast City Council.
With some 70 recordings notably for Chandos, Naxos, BMG, Hyperion among others, the Ulster Orchestra also has a unique relationship with the BBC as its exclusive broadcast partner. Performances are relayed on BBC Radio 3, Radio Ulster and BBC TV. The mix of commercial recordings and streamed internet broadcasts has considerably enhanced the Orchestra’s international reputation.

On This Recording

  1. Piano Concerto No. 1: I. Allegro
  2. Piano Concerto No. 1: II. Lento
  3. Piano Concerto No. 1: III. Allegro molto vivace
  4. Piano Concerto No. 2: I. Molto moderato, sempre flessibile
  5. Piano Concerto No. 2: II. Allegro molto vivace
  6. Piano Concerto No. 2: III. Lento molto e flessibile
  7. Piano Concerto No. 2: IV. Allegro alla danza
  8. Fantasia