MusicWeb International

This new release from Divine Arts twins Vaughan Williams’ great Second Symphony, the London (revised version), with the Celtic Dances by the Welsh composer, William Mathias. Owain Arwel Hughes conducts the National Youth Orchestra of Wales in extremely well-played and impressive performances.

The London Symphony opens with a great sense of atmosphere, and although this may not be the most gripping, exciting and harrowing recording available, it is nonetheless brilliantly performed. Hughes keeps the piece well-paced – neither rushing ahead, nor allowing the orchestra to linger too much. The result is a very well-judged and safe version, with admirable technical playing from the orchestra. Unnecessary risks are avoided – just as one would hope for and expect from a top youth orchestra. This performance also boasts an inspiring climax in the slow movement, with radiant sound and a wonderful sense of wonder and awe. The playing throughout is assured and confident – excellent. The only small criticism one might make is that the sound of the recording from St David’s Hall is possibly a little boxy, and the strings are, on occasion, a little thin; not quite as rich or sonorous as one might like.

Mathias composed his Celtic Dances in 1972, saying that his new piece was “intended to evoke an area of feeling largely associated with the mythological past”. The four Dances that comprise the work are here given accomplished performances. The music – sometimes sounding a little more exotic than Celtic – is lively and engaging, with a strong rhythmic drive and a great sense of fun – particularly in the final movement, Allegro con slanico . This work makes a good, strong ending to an excellent disc.

This is an admirable pairing and not just for the sound rendition of the Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony, but also for the unusual and pleasing addition of Mathias’s winsome Celtic Dances to conclude the disc.

—Em Marshall