The main incentives for purchase here would be an interest in the otherwise unavailable Mathias work, and a connection to this particular youth orchestra. If that sounds like you, then the asking price is no obstacle. But if you need a “library” version of the Vaughan Williams Second, then Hughes won’t do. His interpretation is smooth, dull, and matter-of-fact, sounding like a first run-through, notably in a cautious Scherzo. As such, it stands in stark contrast to the composer’s beloved, seething London, and to the best of the rest. Get Boult, Previn, and Handley, or Hickox for the original score. The best I ever heard was Haitink live, matching drama and passion to structural control. His own recording does not match that experience, but Handley’s first version on EMI, with the London PO (1977) had an even better slow movement. It was last seen in the “British Composers” series. Previn’s intense take on that Lento would probably make him my first choice at the moment, in his LSO cycle for RCA.
All of which is no reflection on these very fine young Welsh players. The Celtic Dances is a whole different bunch of leeks; four varied, colorful movements, pretty well projected by conductor and orchestra. Mathias was an excellent composer, with a meticulous ear for orchestral effects, if that still needs saying. His admirers need the disc for this slight, but memorable and tuneful 1972 score. Influences range from Arnold to Shostakovich, yet the voice is distinctive, and the music should be far better known.
Don’t let that uncompromising review dissuade you from buying this, or from encouraging the young people of Wales, as they keep the flame of classical music alive, in their small remarkable country.