There have been a number of modern instrument performances of the Boyce symphonies over the years. One thinks variously of Menuhin’s recording with his Festival Orchestra, of Ronald Thomas’s with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta on CRD, and of the ASMIF and Neville Marriner. But period bands have long been active in this arena and two of the most lasting and established entrants are Pinnock and Hogwood. More recently, in up to date sound and at a tempting price bracket, comes Mallon
. Those with long memories will recall Jörg Faerber and the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra.
This partial survey of the back story reveals that the symphonies – so tuneful, so attractive, and so lingering in the imagination – have never lacked for adherents and promoters. That said it’s the period bands that have begun to crowd the market and supplant the chamber-sized modern instrument performances, and you’ll have some trouble tracking down all of the last named recordings today.
One which you will certainly be able to acquire is this traversal by the English String Orchestra and William Boughton. These admirable exponents recorded quite a sheaf of music together and always gave good value. Their Boyce is no exception. Tempi are fluent and quite fleet, slower or pomposo
movements have a grand nobility to them, and characterisation is acutely monitored to ensure that the individual temper of each movement never becomes generic or underplayed. In many ways then these are articulate and worthwhile performances.
When one gets down to brass tacks however detail begins to militate
against them. The most obvious demerit is the cavernous acoustic
at the Ballroom of Nimbus Foundation,
Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, which imparts a distant sound-stage to
the proceedings. Attack and articulation and detailing do suffer.
Things lack crispness. The bass line sounds rather heavy and dragging.
In the First Symphony for example, despite the good tempo and
dynamics, things are a bit stolid. Phrase endings tend to taper
in the central movement. In the Symphony in C [No.3] the tonal
weight doesn’t allow a real interplay between strings and wind,
and the lower string weight tends to create an impression of holding
back. Sensitively shaped though the opening of the D minor [No.8]
Symphony is, a more sparing sound is strongly preferable, a feeling
reinforced by the string based sonority, not least in No.4 in
F, where others have brought out the delightful wind writing more
In short then I would refer you first, amongst modern instruments, to Thomas – if you can find it – and for period performances to Hogwood, and then Pinnock, in that order. If you can find the wonderful Faerber, whose praises I never fail to sing, then don’t hesitate.