Boyce: Ode for St Cecilia’s Day

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LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Ode for St Cecilia’s Day
PERFORMER: Patrick Burrowes (treble), William Purefoy (alto), Andrew Watts (countertenor), Richard Edgar-Wilson (tenor), Michael George (bass-baritone); Choir of New College, Oxford, Hanover Band/Graham Lea-Cox
The 18th-century English composer William Boyce is best known today for a set of ‘Eight Symphonys’ which were published in 1760. Most of the music, though, was written much earlier, mainly for occasional odes and theatre pieces. Graham Lea-Cox, with an engaging group of five soloists (one of them a boy), the Choir of New College, Oxford, and the Hanover Band, has chosen an Ode for St Cecilia’s Day which was performed by the Philharmonic Society of Dublin in 1741. Boyce’s original version of the work had been heard in London in the previous year and its overture – a splendid three-movement piece scored for trumpets, drums, woodwind and strings – eventually provided the substance of the Fifth of the ‘Eight Symphonys’. Boyce was one of the most gifted, perhaps the most gifted of Handel’s younger English contemporaries as this supple work unflaggingly demonstrates. I found Lea-Cox’s spirited direction a constant pleasure; he has an effective understanding of style and chooses his tempi discerningly. The airy, lightfooted playing of the Gavotte and Minuetto of the Overture are two early instances of the latter. The New College Choir is on radiant form in the exhilarating opening chorus, which in its scoring and dance rhythm brings to mind that which begins Bach’s cantata Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (BWV 110). Following an auspicious start, Boyce introduces us to one musical delight after another. I was enchanted throughout. Nicholas Anderson