BOYCE: Lambert, Finzi and the anatomy of the Boyce revival

Musical Times, Autumn 2003 by Ian Bartlett



"   ....Perhaps the most noteworthy of these recent initiatives has been Graham Lea-Cox's project with the Choir of New College and the Hanover Band to record for the first time on disc a number of the key works in Boyce's output...." 


(For the Full Article:  Lambert, Finzi and the Anatomy of the Boyce RevivalIan Bartlett   The Musical Times, Vol. 144, No. 1884 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 54-59)


 


(Page 8 continued) .. "   ....The four CDs in the series (1998-2001) produced David's lamentation, The secular masque (c.1746), The ode to St Cecilia (1739) and Pindar's ode (1741). In order to mount these performances he obviated the normal dependency on available editions by utilising the surviving eighteenth-century manuscript scores and parts. Coupled with the Pindar ode is an even more audacious and unprecedented revival - a performance of one of Boyce's court odes, composed for the New Year in 1774. This particular initiative serves not only to belie Gerald Finzi's gloomy prognostication that these works were destined to remain permanently in limbo, but also to illustrate Boyce's sheer professionalism in dealing with uninspiring texts, and his capacity to respond sympathetically to those elements in them that offer even the slightest spark to the imagination. A great deal has been achieved in the quest to find a just place for Boyce in our musical culture, but much still remains to be done.


Commenting on the unjustified lack of interest in Boyce's secular and instrumental music, (English composer and scholar Constant) Lambert observed that his music was 'remarkable for its freshness and force' and identified in it 'the freedom of outlook and technique that has always distinguished the really great composers of this country'. He also conveyed his high regard for the symphonies in the introduction to his edition: 'the neglect into which [Boyce's] instrumental works have fallen is unaccountable,' he writes, 'for they rank among the finest compositions of their time not only in England but in Europe'


Events that may be seen to signify a full acknowledgement of Boyce's status took place in the first week of November 1999. He was then selected for the first time as BBC Radio 3's 'Composer of the week', during which five programmes devoted to his music were broadcast and presented by Donald Macleod. At the same time he was 'Composer of the month' in the BBC Music Magazine where Robert Bruce contributed an illustrated article on his life and times, 'William Boyce: master of the baroque'. Such recognition may seem to have been long overdue. In trying to account for this we may surely rule out indifference or lethargy. The delay is much more likely to have been due to the limited scope of the discography devoted to Boyce prevailing at least until the early 1990s. Until that situation was remedied, the full range of his accomplishments could not readily be demonstrated.


From the 1950s onwards the recording industry had produced a steady but limited flow of anthems, organ voluntaries, trio sonatas, symphonies/overtures, string concertos and songs by Boyce, almost invariably intermixed with works by other composers. His most important works in other genres were significant by their absence, and this remained the position until relatively recently. Where the ubiquitous op.2 symphonies were concerned, they were recorded by most of the leading chamber orchestras, but a milestone was reached in 1968 when Turnabout issued the first recording using Goberman's edition (Wurttenberg Chamber Orchestra, Faerber), and again in 1986, when Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert recorded them on period instruments for the first time - to their great enhancement. A complete recording of the 12 overtures did not appear until 1981 (Cantilena, Shepherd).


Recitals devoted entirely to Boyce's anthems and voluntaries were issued in 1976/1991 (Ely Cathedral, Wills) and in 1991 (New College, Oxford, Higginbottom). The same Oxford forces recorded a disc of 'Coronation anthems' in 2002 that included three of the anthems Boyce composed for the coronation of George III in 1761. One of these, the extensive orchestral anthem, The King shall rejoice', invited comparison with Handel's 1727 setting performed in the same recital. It is symptomatic of the growing respect Boyce is now enjoying that one reviewer observed: On this showing, if Handel remains supreme, Boyce was not far behind.'38


It was not until 1990 that even such a key work as Solomon emerged in a commercial recording (Parley of Instruments, Goodman), and Peleus made its debut in 1997 (Opera Restor'd, Holman), along with three other theatre pieces by Boyce new to the catalogue. A complete recording of the set of trio sonatas, 'another treasurable document of England's musical heritage',39 appeared in 1997 (Parley of Instruments, Holman) with the added bonus of three sonatas in MS that Boyce had not published in 1747.


Perhaps the most noteworthy of these recent initiatives has been Graham Lea-Cox's project with the Choir of New College and the Hanover Band to record for the first time on disc a number of the key works in Boyce's output. The four CDs in the series (1998-2001) produced David's lamentation, The secular masque (c.1746), The ode to St Cecilia (1739) and Pindar's ode (1741). In order to mount these performances he obviated the normal dependency on available editions by utilising the surviving eighteenth-century manuscript scores and parts. Coupled with the Pindar ode is an even more audacious and unprecedented revival - a performance of one of Boyce's court odes, composed for the New Year in 1774. This particular initiative serves not only to belie Gerald Finzi's gloomy prognostication that these works were destined to remain permanently in limbo, but also to illustrate Boyce's sheer professionalism in dealing with uninspiring texts, and his capacity to respond sympathetically to those elements in them that offer even the slightest spark to the imagination. A great deal has been achieved in the quest to find a just place for Boyce in our musical culture, but much still remains to be done."


For the Full Article:  Lambert, Finzi and the Anatomy of the Boyce Revival Ian Bartlett   The Musical Times, Vol. 144, No. 1884 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 54-59