> William Boyce - Symphonies Op. 2 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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William BOYCE (1711-1779)
Symphonies Op 2
The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
Recorded 1992


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Boyce’s Symphonys – his spelling – make a welcome return to the catalogue in Christopher Hogwood’s spirited, intelligent and perceptive reading dating from April 1992. A decade on the virtues of interpretation are palpably undiminished; Trevor Pinnock may have recorded them earlier, the first period instrument performance on disc, but Hogwood’s has proved the more recommendable. The Symphonies derive from sundry overtures written over a period of years and derived from odes and theatre works and were not therefore specifically written for the medium in the modern accepted sense. In their directness, tunefulness and melodic distinction these are probably the greatest works in this style by an English composer in the eighteenth century. Boyce ranges widely from stately formality to earthy wit via a species of Handelian splendour and a hint of reserve and melancholy. Formally these are not the simple pleasantries one might expect of this somewhat transplanted genre; there are numerous examples of stylistic quirkiness and the fusion of genres and influences is very much to the works’ advantage. When, for example, Boyce indulges a fugue it doesn’t last very long but is entirely apt; when he mixes French and Italian style it is of a peace with his musical generosity in the widest sense.

Hogwood is excellent in delineating orchestral clarity. The string division in the first movement on No 1 is a case in point. Maybe the phrasing in the slow movement is a little clipped for my taste but it’s ineffably alive as is the directness and lower string harmonies in the Allegro assai of No 2; splendid oboes, solo violin and staccato phrasing garnish the movement with real panache. I sense a very slight gracelessness in the phrasing of the Presto allegro finale however. How well though Hogwood elucidates the superficially pleasurable opening movement of No 3. There’s nothing strident or didactic about the way he uncovers, not exposes, the harmonic roots of the movement whilst allowing the melodic argument full expression. And equally fine is the way he plays up the oboe/bassoon sonorities in the second movement; his characterisation is excellent and he properly understands the contemporary value of the marking vivace, which has undergone a change over the years; in Boyce’s time it meant a speed above an andante.

The opening allegro of No 4 is delightfully sprung. The gravity of the middle movement is deeply considered with its bassoon rich sonority but it is simply too slow and the one occasion I took exception to his tempo decisions which are otherwise sound and practicable. No 5 is suitably martial and declamatory, the Largo-andante opening of No 6 full of Hogwood’s talent for revealing detail with entry points well clarified and effervescently chugging bassoons. The larghetto is full of finesse. No 7 opens in Handelian glory, its build up and release of tension a real symphonic coup and its nobility of utterance undisguised. Gravity and elevation open the final Symphony with Hogwood rightly alluding to the perhaps slightly unsettled feelings of the andante. Animated string figuration pushes the finale onwards gathering the comically lugubrious woodwind into a final peroration. Splendid music and a splendid disc.

Jonathan Woolf


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