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Boughton & Rooke Premières: Ian Boughton (baritone), Hitchin Symphony Orchestra, Paul Adrian Rooke conductor, Hitchin Town Hall, Hertfordshire, 26.11.2005 [PCW]


Paul Adrian Rooke – Symphony No 2 in C (2005)

Rutland Boughton   Oliver Cromwell – A Character Symphony Op.19 (1905)


This concert included two world premières of works written a hundred years apart but which contained some interesting parallels. A pre-concert talk on Rutland Boughton’s symphony by Michael Hurd was planned but he was indisposed. Fortunately, the composer’s grandson (and soloist in the finale) Ian Boughton was able to deputise at short notice. There was standing room only as he gave those present some interesting insights into the life and work of the composer. In particular it was good to be reminded that his work has not always been neglected – the opera The Immortal Hour remains the most successful British opera in terms of number of performances.


Paul Adrian Rooke was born in Peterborough in 1945 and has composed since his adolescence. After studying at Cambridge University, he spent most of his professional life teaching in secondary schools and has conducted this orchestra for the past 21 years. His First Symphony dates from 2000; the Second was begun in 2002 and completed just three months ago.


It is unusual to see a present-day symphony with a key designation but Rooke is unabashed about tonality. In his programme note, he cites inspiration from the key relationships of Brahms’s First Symphony (each movement is a major third higher than the last) and the chaconne of the same composer’s Fourth Symphony is a model for the finale. The first and third movements contain the most original ideas. The first movement lacks any material development during its eight minute span but juxtaposes violence and love repeatedly in passages which get shorter as it proceeds. The opening is impassioned and very dark. There is no work for the strings until the mood changes and then they dominate. This is very personal music which Rooke tells us “reflects an episode in my life”. The slow movement is an extended lament in ternary form. The third movement is scherzoid and marked Presto goijoso. The basic musical cell is first given to the strings and then to each section of the orchestra. Eventually they all come together before an abrupt ending. The finale is marked Maestoso and contains 31 variations on the main theme. It provides a grand sounding conclusion to a work which lasts about 40 minutes and impresses on first hearing. In terms of musical “technology” this could have been written contemporaneously with the Boughton but emotionally it comes from the 21st century.


Paul Adrian Rooke conducted his Second Symphony in a communicative and forthright way. He was clearly pleased with the response from his players – a very decent amateur orchestra bolstered by some professionals brought in for the performance. The work was well-received by an audience which virtually filled the town hall.


Rutland Boughton’s Oliver Cromwell Symphony was his first, completed at the age of 27. It was put to the Royal College of Music for copying and a trial performance. Judged by three wise men – Eaton Faning and Frederick Cliffe voted for it and Charles Stanford emphatically against. The majority was sufficient for it to be copied but it was then dropped after rehearsal. Boughton started to revise it and a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra was in the offing until vetoed by Nikisch. After that Boughton moved on and the work lay dormant for almost a century until, prompted by Ian Boughton, Paul Adrian Rooke reconstructed the score from its parts. The revisions made to the original score included tearing out the third movement and Rooke has therefore stuck entirely to the original parts, including the use of four flutes in the slow movement. Boughton had later, pragmatically, decided to give these parts to solo violins. In broadly following the design of the classical symphony – four movements with slow movement second – and lasting about 40 minutes, the work was similar to Rooke’s. Boughton gave each movement a specific programme – (i) character study (ii) Cromwell’s letter to his wife after the Battle of Dunbar (iii) March of the Puritans (iv) death scene. Within the last movement he set for baritone solo the text of Cromwell’s final prayer as recorded by Thomas Carlyle.


Boughton’s symphony was clearly a trickier performing proposition than the Rooke. There were some dodgy moments in the first movement but the performance grew in stature as it went on. In the slow movement, the quartet of flutes more than justified their inclusion and there was also some fine solo work by the leader, Janet Hicks and principal cellist Sharon Beale. Ian Boughton sang fluently and convincingly in the finale, and the calm ending was well-judged by Rooke. At the end of the work, the audience was highly appreciative. Although, by contrast with the rest, the third movement seems relatively ordinary, this is a work which certainly deserves further airings.


Finally, I should mention (and acknowledge) the souvenir programme with detailed notes by Rooke (and musical examples) which were invaluable when writing this review. This programme was superior to most of those I have come across recently at professional concerts. Congratulations are due to everyone associated with this enterprise – it was a memorable evening.


Patrick C Waller




Ian Boughton: http://www.ianboughton.co.uk

Paul Adrian Rooke: http://www.pauladrianrooke.com

Hitchin Symphony Orchestra: http://www.hitchinsymphony.org.uk

Rutland Boughton Music Trust: http://www.rutlandboughtonmusictrust.org.uk






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