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Hyperion Records

CDH55019 - Boughton: Symphony No 3 & Oboe Concerto No 1
Glastonbury Tor, Gloucestershire, photographed by Michael W Mattias.
CDH55019
(Originally issued on CDA66343)

Recording details: December 1988
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: May 1999
DISCID: 5A0D7C07
Total duration: 57 minutes 28 seconds

'Once again our gratitude to Hyperion, and to Vernon Handley, for recording a hidden treasure' (Gramophone)

'Sumptuous' (Hi-Fi News)

Symphony No 3 & Oboe Concerto No 1
Allegro potente  [9'21]
Allegro giocoso  [5'01]
Allegro  [8'41]
Allegro moderato  [6'10]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In November 1927 Rutland Boughton took up residence at Kilcot—a smallholding near Newent on the borders of Gloucester and Herefordshire that was to be his home for the rest of his life. The immediate impulse to find a permanent home had been the voluntary liquidation of the Glastonbury Players in July 1927 and the consequent collapse of the Glastonbury Festivals which he had run successfully since August 1914. At Kilcot he was able to experiment, on a small scale, with at least some of those aspects of the self-supporting community that he had intended for Glastonbury but which, for practical reasons, he had never been able to put into effect. Politics, lecturing and involvement as conductor of the London Labour Choral Union occupied his first years at Kilcot, but by 1934 he was ready to attempt new festivals at Stroud and Bath. Though these introduced his most recent music dramas, they failed to take root and for a while he turned his attention to instrumental works of various kinds. It is from this period that the Concerto for oboe and strings and the Symphony in B minor date—the Concerto being completed towards the end of 1936 and the Symphony during the following autumn. Concertos for flute, strings, and trumpet, and a second Oboe Concerto followed during the next six years, but no further symphonies. In 1943 he turned again to his cherished cycle of Arthurian music dramas, completing the last pages in November 1945 and thus bringing his life’s work to an end.

Symphony No 3 in B minor
There seems to have been no particular reason for composing the Symphony in B minor, other than the sheer joy of creation. The score, however, is headed ‘To Steuart Wilson—thanksgiving’: a dedication that marked Boughton’s gratitude to Wilson (who had been a frequent singer at Glastonbury) for financing a short run of The Lily Maid (the third of the Arthurian cycle) at London’s Winter Garden Theatre in January 1937. The Symphony received its first performance at a private concert, organized and paid for by Adolph and Emil Borsdorf (enthusiastic supporters of Boughton’s post-Glastonbury ventures) in celebration of the composer’s birthday. The Borsdorfs assembled an ad hoc orchestra of London’s finest players, led by Jean Pougnet, and the event took place on 1 January 1939, at the Kingsway Theatre before an invited audience which included Ralph Vaughan Williams, Roger Quilter, Alan Bush and Clarence Raybould, but which deliberately excluded the press. Boughton conducted the Symphony himself, while Ernest Irving and Steuart Wilson completed the programme with extracts from The Immortal Hour (recorded on Hyperion CDD22040). Thereafter Boughton seems to have made no attempt to offer the work for performance, and it was not until Edward Downes and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra broadcast it from Manchester in September 1983 that its qualities could be publicly assessed. That performance proved a revelation.

The Symphony in B minor is Boughton’s third essay in this form. The First Symphony, composed mainly in 1904, is subtitled ‘Oliver Cromwell—a character symphony’ and is overtly programmatic. Apart from a reading by the Royal College of Music Orchestra in 1905, it appears not to have been performed and the composer later withdrew it. The Second Symphony began life in 1926 as a ballet for Ninette de Valois. Recast as a symphony in three movements, it received its first performance on 25 January 1933 by Sir Dan Godfrey and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

The Third Symphony is therefore Boughton’s only sustained essay in pure symphonic form. Although his musical vocabulary and its formal application are entirely traditional—and somewhat old-fashioned even by English symphonic standards of the time—the way Boughton handles his materials is masterly. This is a symphony in the grand manner: vigorous, closely argued from well-defined thematic units and brilliantly scored for large orchestra. Though somewhat eclectic in style (the benign influence of Elgar is very apparent, while Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances make an unexpected appearance in the third movement), Boughton’s Symphony has a positive and very individual personality of its own. Each movement carries conviction and contributes to a convincing and varied whole that reserves its greatest emotional impact for the glorious peroration that brings the last movement to a triumphant close.

Concerto for oboe and strings No 1 in C
In 1936 Boughton had every reason to write an extended work for the oboe, for his daughter Joy (1913–1963) had begun to be acknowledged as an oboist of exceptional ability (it was for her that Britten was to write his Six Metamorphoses after Ovid in 1951). Accordingly she gave the Concerto for oboe and strings its first performance on 6 May 1937 at a concert with the Boyd Neel String Orchestra in The Guildhall, Oxford. Later that year Boyd Neel took it to Salzburg as part of the programme (27 August) that included the first performance of Britten’s Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge. Leon Goossens was the soloist on that occasion and Boyd Neel was able to report a ‘real triumph for the Concerto. Spontaneous applause after the slow movement … the whole concert went wonderfully’. He had written in similar terms after the Oxford premiere (‘Congratulations! It went simply splendidly and got more applause than any other item!’), and his enthusiasm was confirmed when Boosey & Hawkes accepted the work for publication. Boughton must have been relieved. His income for 1937 scarcely reached £100 and he could not afford to travel to Oxford for the first performance!

As with the Symphony, Boughton uses traditional forms and traditional materials. His manner of writing for the strings, however, explores a degree of intricacy that is a considerable challenge to the players, even if it may not be obvious to the ear. Despite the emphatic influence that folksong has over the thematic material, the solo part pulls no punches: it is virtuoso writing, manifestly designed for virtuoso performers, and as such has ensured that the Concerto has remained a work that major soloists have been glad to include in their repertoire.

Michael Hurd © 1999

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