The Music of Peter Boyer

0 of 5 stars

Celebration Overture (1997)
Ghosts of Troy (2000)
New Beginnings (2000)
The Phoenix (1997)
Three Olympians (2000)
Titanic (1995)

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Boyer

Recorded at Studio 1, Abbey Road, London on January 2 & 3, 2001

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: July 2002
CD No: KOCH 3-7523-2

A curiosity about the opening of Celebration Overture – definitely a transatlantic creation – is the melange of styles. I thought of John Corigliano. I then read the booklet note to find Peter Boyer studied with him!

Boyer, born in 1970 in Providence, Rhode Island, doesn’t seem to lack for commissions. It is though difficult to rate his music, which is well crafted. It is also immensely likeable and instantly appealing – in itself a problem perhaps – yet it takes no real stance. Celebration Overture opens the CD and veers between the concert hall and the movies. The lovely oboe melody from 4’31” is undeniably affecting; this is from another era and looks back to Samuel Barber, and he was as nostalgic a composer as they come. When this melody is expanded in cinema-scope one is in sync with the feeling of music but there’s also a rejection clause: this could be from any composer with a gift for melody and a nose for giving the audience what they want. However, read the composer’s note and he acknowledges this. New Beginnings is similarly “celebratory” – texturally busy, outgoing and rhythmically punchy, and a bit John Adams-ish. Another melodically-centred oboe melody appears, a “Dallas”-like trumpet solo takes over, and the strings are once again given their full ’weepy’ potential.

Filmic associations continue with The Phoenix – roulading harps set the scene, motoric rhythms generate the momentum; after that it’s rather stop-start, imagery before musical line. Titanic is a graphic tone poem that launches and sinks the ship with popular tunes and, inevitably, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”, the last music heard on board (allegedly). There are too many effects for my liking, too much reliance on borrowed music and doing the obvious. I appreciate the context though.

The phoenix story is but one aspect of Boyer’s “fascination with mythology”. The remaining pieces on this CD are from the Greek. Three Olympians – Apollo, Aphrodite and Ares – in which the first sounds rather English in terms of musical style, and is rhythmically formal with a hint of Britten in the effectual overlay. Aphrodite is cool and beautiful, the burgeoning melody suggests she is about to move to Peyton Place. The war-like Ares, as the composer mentions, does indeed initially suggest Holst’s ’Mars’ before going off on a venomous route of its own, or as venomous as this seemingly good-natured composer can be.

Sourced from Homer’s “The Iliad”, a rather obvious edit at 1’25” in the first of the six short movements of Ghosts of Troy doesn’t help establish a mood, yet the music is inventive and, ironically, is the most interesting as far as notes on paper is concerned. However, there is little in the way of establishing a rapport with Ancient Greece and the characters therein. The fragile beauty of Hector and Andromache’s ’Farewell’ is perhaps the highlight of the CD – solo oboe again to the fore.

Ultimately, I just wish that the ’real’ Peter Boyer would stand up. Inoffensive and colourful, the music here is stamped ’enjoy today and never mind posterity’ – perhaps a consequence of specific commissions and/or tying music to particular stories. Should Boyer’s scores appeal – and they will on a first listen – then the LSO is in marvellous form and the recording is top drawer, the composer presumably obtaining everything he wanted. He contributes an extensive written note, which is welcome.

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