William Boyce (1711-79) achieved much as a composer
for the church, stage, orchestra and the home and this despite the supposedly
stifling influence of Handel on native British music for much of Boyce’s
This Ode, recorded for the first time (apart from its
first overture, published separately) is an earlyish work, dating from
1739, and is a substantial one, lasting 68 minutes. It was first performed
in London, then in Dublin in 1741, when several of the singers who were
to perform in the premiere of Messiah a year later took part.
The soloists on this splendidly recorded disc are the talented boy soprano
Patrick Burrowes, who is assigned the role of St. Cecilia herself towards
the end (plus another aria earlier on), two altos, William Purefoy and
Andrew Watts, the latter taking the role of a "high tenor"
in the Dublin performance, the tenor Richard Edgar-Wilson and the bass
Michael George. George is arguably the most experienced of them and
he sings with authority, especially in the aria with trumpet in Part
I, but all show a good sense of period style. Mr. Purefoy has the work’s
most beautiful solo, "Music, Gently Soothing Power". The New
College Choir are also old hands at baroque repertoire and they perform
the Ode’s four choruses, all showing Boyce’s resource in contrapuntal
writing, excitingly. The Hanover Band play stylishly under Graham Lea-Cox.
All told, this is an important and highly recommendable
release, an agreeable marriage of musicianship and scholarship. Even
today Boyce’s achievements are generally too little known (though there
is an orchestra in Doncaster, founded in 1969, named after him) and
anything which might redress this is to be welcomed.