Boyce: Pindar’s Ode; Ode for the New Year, 1774

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LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Pindar’s Ode; Ode for the New Year, 1774
PERFORMER: Patrick Burrowes, Andrew Johnson (treble), Christopher Josey, Charles Daniels (tenor), Michael George (bass-baritone); Choir of New College, Oxford, Hanover Band/Graham Lea-Cox
Another delectable offering in ASV’s ongoing Boyce series. These two odes, from opposite ends of the composer’s career, are essentially ‘occasional’, ephemeral works: indeed, this may be the New Year’s Ode’s first outing since it was performed before George III in St James’s Palace. But Boyce’s fresh, colourful music consistently transcends the occasion. Pindar’s Ode of 1741 is in effect a Cecilian ode invoking the power of music. Many of its numbers are in graceful or melancholy pastoral vein, recalling the Handel of Acis and Galatea though with an individual flavour of their own. There is also a picturesque bravura aria evoking the fires of Mount Etna (topical relevance here), a grave, richly coloured aria for bass and, rounding off the work, a rollicking fugal chorus. The New Year’s Ode, with its regulation blend of sycophancy and chauvinism, is a much briefer affair, though hardly less inventive. Highlights include a dulcet minuet aria (something of a Boyce speciality) and a rousing tenor-bass duet full of graphic orchestral writing. While Boyce’s musical language remains rooted in the High Baroque, the bustling, galant overture shows that the ageing composer was not immune to contemporary trends. Apart from a slightly husky boy treble in Pindar’s Ode, all the soloists – who include the extraordinary high tenor-cum-falsettist Christopher Josey – are vivid and stylish. And as ever in this series, Graham Lea-Cox directs with verve, keeping the rhythms light and supple and catching all the music’s colour and distinctly English charm. Richard Wigmore