Rory Boyle's music will be new to many listeners. This varied and compelling collection shows him to be a composer of considerable range and depth. A Scottish pupil of Lennox Berkeley, his music has a certain Gallic sensibility - Ravel was one of Berkeley's teachers - and even stronger Russian tendencies; Stravinsky is an acknowledged influence. There is a craggy, northern quality to this music that is occasionally reminiscent of Kenneth Leighton, an Englishman who spent much of his working life in Scotland. There is also a stylistic similarity to some of James MacMillan's chamber works.
Arrivals and Departures
has all the hallmarks of a piece that should acquire repertoire status. The opening is inviting, with its shades of Lennox Berkeley. Even finer is the remarkable third movement Berceuse for Bertie
, which has a timelessness that is most affecting, especially in this moving performance by James Willshire who here undertakes his debut recording.
Boyle's music is often marked by a powerful rhythmic drive, as evinced by his short piece Reeling
, written especially for Willshire. The performance here is admirable, with the music's darker moods brought out very effectively. Boyle's substantial Sonata
(1991) also combines vigour with intense introspection. The structure of the first movement is somewhat elusive, but the episodes are so compelling in themselves that the music is thoroughly convincing. The second movement has a profound inwardness that is one of the most appealing aspects of Boyle's idiom. Here we become aware that his music always has an underlying lyricism, even in his harder-edged pieces. The finale returns to the energetic mood of the first movement.
In his Capriccio on the Anniversary of a Beloved Master
, Boyle adopts a Neo-Baroque style, with Bachian elements filtered through twentieth century compositional procedures. The effect is not unlike Kenneth Leighton's Fantasia Contrappuntistica
. “Studies for the one in the middle” also rewards repeated listening, for its three tiny movements contain many of Boyle's stylistic traits in miniature. Although the third movement, Toccata
, lasts less than a minute, it seems completely appropriate in the context of this piece. This is challenging, yet accessible music.
It is remarkable how few contemporary composers can write a brief and attractive piece of light music. For example, I find Maxwell Davies' attempts, such as his Farewell to Stromness
, completely unconvincing. Rory Boyle's Tatty's Dance
is successful because it manages to combine simplicity with an unobtrusive craftsmanship.
In Phaethon's Dancing Lesson
(Boyle's Second Piano Trio), both Bartók and Ravel emerge as the primary influences. In this piece, James Willshire is joined by the other members of the Bartholdy Trio, Julia Joyce and Andrew Joyce on violin and cello respectively. Together they give a powerful performance. The work boasts marvellously lyrical passages (try from 3:22) alternating with more energetic episodes. Occasionally, I was even reminded of Moeran's dark and powerful Cello Sonata.
The recorded sound has a touch of hiss, but this is a minor reservation. What matters here is Boyle's distinctive and emotive music and Willshire's outstanding performances.