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Ina BOYLE (1889-1967)
Overture for orchestra (1933-34) [8:01]
Violin Concerto (1932-33 rev. 1935) [16:39]
Symphony No. 1 Glencree (In the Wicklow Hills) (1924-27) [21:29]
Wildgeese: Sketch for small orchestra (1942) [3:47]
Psalm for cello and orchestra (1927 rev. 1928) [9:17]
A Sea Poem: Theme, variations and finale for orchestra (1919) [15:50]
Colin Clout (A Pastoral after Spenser’s "The Shepheardes Calender") (1921) [8:50]
Benjamin Baker (violin)
Nadège Rochat (cello)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Ronald Corp
rec. Watford Colosseum, 2017

Among Northern Ireland's twentieth century composers Harty and Ferguson have been reasonably well served. Both had reputations as distinguished practical musicians: Ferguson in his self-sacrificing support for Finzi in the songs and elsewhere; Harty as conductor of the Hallé. Appreciation of their own music followed on the coat-tails of those reputations. What, however, of two others: Ina Boyle (1889-1967) and Norman Hay (1889-1943)? I certainly hope that Hay will be recorded, not least for his Tintagel-like tone poem Dunluce and his Yeats sequence for voice and orchestra, The Wind Among the Reeds, both revived by the BBC and RTÉ in the last quarter century. There have been stirrings for Boyle, a pupil of Ralph Vaughan Williams and friend and contemporary of Elizabeth Maconchy, including the Elegy for cello and orchestra and the Carnegie Award-winning tone poem The Magic Harp, the latter taken up by Dutton. That said this is the first time Boyle's music has been treated to a single-composer anthology of her orchestral works. It is here performed with sympathetic insight and some rejuvenating zest.

Boyle's Overture was well thought of by Vaughan Williams; no wonder. Lively innocence, occasionally soulful pages, airy poetically melancholic textures (7:01) and folksy vitality place it midway between Vaughan Williams' Poisoned Kiss overture and Moeran's Overture to a Masque. The overture ends gently in a poetic breath rather than an outdoorsy whoop. It's not especially 'Irish' in the sense of Harty's Irish Symphony. It was premiered by Jean Martinon and the Radio Éireann orchestra in 1948. Sadly, it lacks only a catchy title. The poetic Violin Concerto is all over in three movements and in just short of 17 minutes. Another work of the 1930s, it has more in common with RVW's Lark Ascending than with the big British Isles statements (Bax, Walton, Dyson¸ Creith and Moeran) of that decade and is none the worse for that. Its contemplative, affectionate melancholy is understandable given that it is dedicated to Boyle's mother who had died in 1932. Even the final Allegro is qualified with a "ma non troppo". It reminded me of another genuine 'unshouty' British concerto - that by John Jeffreys, recorded on Meridian. The Boyle concerto also ends on a gentle gesture. Benjamin Baker is a faithful and attentive advocate for this unflashy score. I see that the work was rehearsed with the BBC by André Mangeot, conducted by Aylmer Buesst but never attained a broadcast at that time.

Symphony No. 1 Glencree has been heard in recent years as part of RTÉ's Composing the Island series in 2016 (program notes). Its three movements are: 1. On Lacken Hill; 2. Nightwinds in the Valley and 3. Above Lough Bray. The soft lyrical contours of the first sing in a typically open way that brackets RVW's Pastoral and Moeran's First Rhapsody and In the Mountain Country. There are affecting solos for oboe and trumpet. Breaking the spell, the short middle movement at first lashes along. Although not as lush and romantically dense, its sturdy storm-clouds are typical of Harty's With The Wild-Geese. That said, Boyle returns to her true North with pages of Tranquillo. The impressive finale is more darkly flecked but with strong parallels drawn with Vaughan Williams at his most intense. It too ends thoughtfully without bravado or heroics.

Wildgeese - the latest work here - is described as a "sketch for small orchestra". Its melancholy, languor and romantic "Dover Beach" swell recalls Constant Lambert's Aubade Héroïque. The soloist in Psalm for cello and orchestra has also recorded Boyle's 1913 Elegy. Nadège Rochat is commandingly placed in the audio picture without obscuring the orchestral detail. The music on occasion touches base with the Copland of Appalachian Spring, a score then lying many years in the future. A Sea Poem: "Theme, variations and finale" is the earliest work here. There are six variations which, with the other sections, are helpfully laid out in eight tracks. The writing strides along a pathway marked out on one side by the lighter Elgar and on the other by Rimsky-Korsakov. On the evidence of the other works here this is Boyle finding her way towards her own voice rather than being typical of her maturity. That said, the last track (tr.18) (which I initially and erroneously thought was the Colin Clout "SACD Bonus track") is a sun-warmed pastoral and fits well into the green lyrical traditions of the British Isles.  

As for the Colin Clout track this is said to have found its inspiration in one of Edmund Spenser's eclogues. It's referred to by Dutton as an "SACD Bonus Track". Judgment on that nine minute piece will have to be deferred until the track is playable or a revised disc issued or download made available. I am grateful to Colin Mackie for pointing this out and identifying my error in ascribing the Finale of Sea-Poem to this piece.   

It seems that there are many other Boyle works of interest including two other numbered symphonies (1930, 1951). Glencree has been heard in part before. One movement of it was on RTÉ Lyric FM CD153.

The liner-note is by Ita Beausang who, with Séamas de Barra, has written a biography of Boyle (Cork University Press, 2018).

These premiere recordings, which sound very well indeed, were produced in association with BBC Radio 3. In case you have any anxiety about the circa 84-minute playing time my experience was that I had no difficulty playing this disc on a conventional CD player: no blips or stutters. More to the point, the music-making here is personable, tuneful and completely approachable.

Rob Barnett


Note from Dutton
In response to the above review’s comment about the Colin Clout piece not being playable, Dutton Epoch would like to point out that this is not the case.

This is an SACD dual-layer release, and Colin Clout has been included as an additional extra on the SACD layer, hence it’s billing as an “SACD bonus track.” This also explains the disc’s almost 84-minute playing time: the maximum playing time of a standard PCM CD is 79m 57s (the Red Book standard) whereas an SACD’s is up to 110 minutes. The only way that Colin Clout could be included was to place it on the SACD layer, otherwise it would have had to be omitted – it simply wouldn’t have fitted on the standard PCM CD layer. Putting this disc in an SACD player – or any machine capable of playing SACDs – will allow the Colin Clout track to be heard.



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