William BOYCE (1685-1759)
The Eight Symphonies
Symphony No. 1 in B flat major [7:17]
Symphony No. 2 in A major [5:28]
Symphony No. 3 in C major [5:05]
Symphony No. 4 in F major [5:48]
Symphony No. 5 in D major [7:27]
Symphony No. 6 in F major [6:34]
Symphony No. 7 in B flat major [9:18]
Symphony No. 8 in D minor [11:30]
Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Ronald Thomas
rec. 1979 Wessex Hall, Poole Arts Centre, Dorset, England
CRD 3356 [59:39]

Although the Bournemouth Sinfonietta perform on modern instruments in this CRD re-issue of Boyce’s Symphonies Op. 2, Ronald Thomas’s interpretation of them is often so strikingly brisk and spirited as to rival those by authentic practice ensembles in terms of those qualities. Indeed this approach sometimes feels as enervating as an overdose of caffeine, and it can efface the finer, expressive details of the music, which the classic period performance recording by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music (review) brings out to better effect.

Nevertheless there is still much to enjoy, and at other times such ebullience is ideal for the joyous movements, whilst there is also a sturdiness which brings out the moments of Handelian grandeur, perhaps recalling the same sort of sound as Raymond Leppard cultivated with the English Chamber Orchestra. The first two movements of No. 7 in B flat, for example, could be the overture to a Handel opera or oratorio, and there is an implacable progression in the sequences of imitations in the fugal second movement of No. 8. Also to give Thomas his due, it is fair to point out that, where several inner movements of these Symphonies are marked ‘Vivace’, he does not take that as an invitation to rush through the music, but simply to play ‘lively’ as that direction requires. The solemn ‘Pomposo’ opening of No. 8 in D minor demonstrates that these performances are not always frenetic but bear the spirit of the score.

The characteristics of Thomas’s interpretation are well displayed in the most famous Symphony of the set, No. 4 in F – taken over by Boyce from his incidental music for The Shepherd’s Lottery. The Bournemouth Sinfonietta play with irrepressible vigour, and the twinkling of the harpsichord continuo in the background provides further jollity to the overall timbre. The contrasting Vivace ma non troppo middle movement lilts amiably, and the final ‘Gavot’ [sic] palpably bears the pulse of such a dance. Other dances throughout the set also come out well, and the subtle addition of flutes to the timbre of the Moderato of No. 7 makes that movement sound like a French dance – it could almost come from a Rameau opera.

Undoubtedly those who look for closer attention to detail in this music will prefer the Hogwood set, or Trevor Pinnock’s. But Thomas’s recording is still a good place to start, and will engage those who look for a more solid, well-rounded manner (despite the fast speeds). One little gripe is that each Symphony is given over to one whole track each, rather than divided into individual movements, which requires the listener to fast forward to reach subsequent movements within a Symphony rather than being able to skip tracks to them.
Curtis Rogers

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