William Boyce: David's Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan


Information and Reviews

Graham Lea-Cox, Conductor

The Hanover Band 



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On this CD:

  1. David's Lamentation Over Saul and Jonathan, cantata for soloists, chorus & orchestra
    Composed by William Boyce
    Conducted by Graham Lea-Cox

  2. Ode for St. Cecilia's Day
    Composed by William Boyce
    Conducted by Graham Lea-Cox

Product Details


BBC Music Magazine

Following his widely acclaimed recent recording of Boyce's Ode for St Cecilia's Day (ASV), Graham Lea-Cox has come up with another rarity by the composer, David's Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan. The disc further includes another, smaller-scale St Cecilia's Day ode as well as two arias and a recitative from the earlier London version of the Lamentation. Boyce wrote the work in 1736 when he was 24 years old but revised it for performances in Dublin during the mid-1740s. It's a beautifully crafted piece introduced by a deeply affecting two-movement Overture in G minor whose initial gesture momentarily recalls one of Bach's great laments, in the same key, contained in the opening chorus of his cantata Jesu, der du meine Seele (BWV 78). Lea-Cox has assembled much the same forces as he fielded for the 'St Cecilia Ode', that's to say, the Choir of New College, Oxford, and the Hanover Band. And, as before, and with similarly happy results he uses boys from the choir for all the soprano, and some of the alto solos. Boyce sustains the melancholy, sometimes broodingly intense character of this dramatic scene - it's not really an oratorio - wonderfully well, punctuating the sections of an overtly 'lament' character with some vigorous airs and passages of accompagnato, in which the mighty shadow of Handel is often present.In short, this is a world premiere recording most urgently to be acquired. The overture alone should be enough to tempt readers but, if not, the poignant chorus 'For Saul, for Jonathan, they fast, they weep' should do the trick.Performance *****
Sound *****  © BBC Music Magazine 2001


Conductor's Note:

These previously unrecorded works by William Boyce have an interesting and somewhat complicated genesis.  Boyce composed two different Odes for St. Cecilia’s Day: the Ode for St Cecilia's Day, to a text by his friend John Lockman (recorded by us on Sanctuary Classics CD GAU 200) and the Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, to a text by the Revd. Peter Vidal (CD GAU 208, recorded along with David’s Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan ).  

In addition to this, Boyce composed two versions of his Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (Lockman) for two different performances in London and Dublin and, likewise for the London premiere in 1736 and for the Philharmonic Society of Dublin in 1744, two versions of David’s Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan

In this series of recordings for Sanctuary Classics, we have performed from copies of Boyce’s original manuscript parts (the very same parts used by him in the first performances with his own musicians) - even recording producer, Martin Compton, worked from copies of the18th century scores!  Although in the end this might seem rather superficial, the act of working with these beautifully written parts does give us a powerful and fascinating feeling of connection to the composer and his own musicians.

Responding to the different personalities and voices for each performance, much as Handel or Mozart (or almost all other composers of the century) would do, Boyce cleverly adapted his original London scores for the Dublin Society’s remarkable Dublin soloists by keeping most of the orchestral lines wholst rewriting as necessary the vocal lines.  It was these very Dublin soloists, members of the two Cahedral Choirs in the city, who would premiere Handel’s Messiah a year later.  They included the remarkable high tenor, John Church, for whom Boyce rewrote several tenor numbers into a much higher tessitura.  As Boyce re-writes the score for the new singers, we can see the composer also making several subtle additions, such as adding strings and flutes in the recitatives, for stylistic and dramatic reasons.  The result in both the Ode and the Lamentation was two versions with their own distinct flavours and a distinctively powerful and dramatic beauty.

David’s Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan is a short work of extraordinary depth in which the composer uses the orchestra to vividly colour the tragic story as it unfolds.   This is intensely moving music, music of remarkable simplicity and assurance that leaves us to wonder at the maturity of this young composer, still only 24 years old.

Graham Lea-Cox © 2006

For more information on the life and times of William Boyce and his contemporary Thomas Arne, please see the article: Featured Artist: ORFEO Magazine, ITALY (Firenze)