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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDH55019
Recording details: December 1988
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: September 1989
Total duration: 36 minutes 44 seconds

Symphony No 3 in B minor
composer

Allegro potente  [9'21]
Allegro giocoso  [5'01]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
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. 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.

from notes by Michael Hurd © 1999

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