Tuesday, May 10, 2011

William Boyce: 8 Symphonies - ASMF, Neville Marriner

William Boyce
8 Symphonies
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner
Decca 444 523-2

Review of the original LP release on Argo of this recording:

The first thing Beethoven used to ask after a concert he could not hear was "Were the tempos right?", and they must have seemed just as important to Boyce, almost as deaf by the time these symphonies were published, for he marked every movement with rather more care than was then usual. On this otherwise excellent disc it seems to me that some of his directions have been wilfully ignored. For example, Boyce marked three of his middle movements Vivace, and though it is true that Handel's Vivace markings used to be taken too fast, there can be no case for playing such movements Lento as they sometimes are on this disc. The delicious little trifle in the middle of No. 3 is quite ruined by slowness. In his Turnabout recording, Faerber gets the tempo just right, as also that of the central Vivace in No. 2. Again Marriner is much slower, though this time the effect is entrancing. However in the middle of No. 4 both take the Vivace too slowly, Marriner very much too slowly, and a delightful movement comes to nothing.

Perhaps the trouble springs from a feeling that the second movement in a three-movement symphony must be slow, but Boyce did not share this feeling; he sometimes liked it to be fast and piquant. However there is plenty that can be liked without reservation on this disc. Quick movements are played with the light vitality we expect of this ensemble. Trumpets and horns shine through the texture more clearly than on the rival disc. In spite of the slow tempos almost all the repeats are made and although this results in each side playing for over half an hour I detected no falling-off in the excellent quality. I would only question the excessive prominence given to the bassoon solos in the middle of No. 3, solos that Boyce did not actually ask for though he might have accepted them.

Poor old Boyce keeps getting the stick for being behind the times, and certainly this is not the sort of music expected of composers in 1760, the year of publication. But in fact he wrote four of these symphonies in the 1730s or early forties and only two after 1750; they were not old-fashioned when written. The necessary research was done 20 years ago by Gerald Finzi, and the sleeve-note should have named and dated the works of which these 'symphonies' were originally the overture. Incidentally this would show why the finale of No. 6 is so langorous—the reason being that this was the overture to Boyce's Solomon based on that Biblical Love Duet, The Song of Solomon. This marvellous movement is exquisitely played, but so are most of them. All in all this disc is to be preferred to its rival; the quality is certainly better. But there is room for a still better version; the music deserves it.

R.F., Gramophone Magazine 1978

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