Gramophone

A Welsh Arts Council commission from 1972, William Mathias’s Celtic Dances proves a very likeable find – tuneful compact, glintingly colourful (Harp, celesta, tubular bells and glockenspiel have plenty to do). Rhythmically invigorating, and with much the same potential for widespread appeal as,say, Arnold’s irresistible orchestral dances (like Sir Malcolm, Mathias doesn’t make use of any actual folk melodies) There are four dances, the last of which satisfyingly recycles material heard in the glistening introductory bars, and all are engagingly delivered here by the national Youth Orchestra of Wales under Owain Arwel Hughes.

Turning to the main offering, Hughes elicits some generally competent and estimably spirited playing from his young charges, but they can’t provide the accuracy and lustre required to withstand repeated hearings or closer scrutiny by the microphones (the strings lack muscular fibre and body of tone). In any case Hughes’s is emphatically not a reading that resounds in the memory and his unfussy, four-square conception falls some way short in terms of clinching rigour, sheer strength of personality and emotional undertow (the shuddering mystery of the third-movement coda – one of VW’s greatest inspirations – fails to register).

Supporters of the NYOW will have no doubt already placed their orders./ However in the rough and tumble of the marketplace, the competition is ferocious and newcomers would be better advised to seek out Barbirolli…(at present only available from the Barbirolli Society…[and adds other suggestions]

—Andrew Achenbach