Three Folk Dances
Concerto for flute and strings
Concerto for string orchestra
Emily Beynon (flute)
The New London Orchestra conducted by Ronald Corp
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2000
CD No: HYPERION CDA67185
Boughton was born in Aylesbury in 1878 and died in London in 1960 aged 82. In between, this largely self-taught composer followed Wagner in making Glastonbury his Bayreuth for the production of his operas including ’choral dramas’ based on Arthurian legend. From the First War years The Immortal Hour became very popular and this, like a number of other Boughton scores, may be found on Hyperion.
This label’s latest Boughton venture concentrates on music for string orchestra, Emily Beynon’s sparkling flute-playing adding a delightful contrast to the folksy, rhapsodic nature of most of the music presented. I can’t pretend that we’re dealing with masterpieces, except possibly the Concerto for strings, but everything here was composed to be enjoyed. The Folk Dances are rustic and tender, altogether charming, while Aylesbury Games was intended for amateur performance in the town until conductor Charles Pope recognised the music to be beyond his players’ abilities. Three rhapsodies on a ’little tune’, each movement is a tad too long, yet each has some lovely lyrical invention that doesn’t quite reach the ’memorable’ target. Overall, these 22 minutes are somewhat strenuously achieved and dourly coloured.
The Flute Concerto’s outer movements – light-stepping and good-natured with a mix of attractive rhythms and lyrical episodes – frame the beautiful slow movement’s flute arabesques that gracefully contour over string chords. The soloist then sings a sad tune, one which seems to look over the sea to Ireland – really quite lovely, played here with melting sensitivity by Emily Beynon who, otherwise, plays with elan and virtuosity.
The Concerto for strings (like the Flute Concerto, from 1937) is an ambitious four-movement, 30-minute piece in which Boughton shows genuine mastery of writing for strings – an English-composer speciality. Whether it joins the premier league of works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Tippett, time will tell. I doubt it, yet Boughton’s seriousness of purpose impresses; so too does his skill in using every technical device in the book to construct music that keeps the ear and mind interested in the variety of colour and expression that Boughton conjures. There’s plenty of heart too in quieter, reflective moments when Boughton’s use of solo strings is particularly atmospheric; once again the slow movement (originally titled Love Scene) is especially affecting.
The performances on these first recordings all appear to be excellent, not least in the Concerto for strings (which Boyd Neel’s orchestra found too difficult – strange when it had managed Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations just a few months previously). I like the Flute Concerto very much and am delighted to know the strings’ concerto – it’ll be that I return to most to relish Boughton’s confident strides, mastery of scoring and, like all his music I suspect, warm heart.