Boyce: The Secular Masque; Overtures to Odes

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COMPOSERS: Boyce
LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: The Secular Masque; Overtures to Odes
PERFORMER: Judith Howarth (soprano), Kathleen Kuhlmann (mezzo-soprano), Charles Daniels, Timothy Robinson (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (baritone), David Thomas (bass); Choir of New College, Oxford, Hanover Band/Graham Lea-Cox
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 176
William Boyce’s The Secular Masque was composed in the mid-1740s to an allegorical text by Dryden dating from the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s a fine work – vivid, to the point, economical, yet inventive – though quite why Boyce opted to set words that referred to the political atmosphere prevailing in the reigns of the Stuart kings remains rather unclear. At any rate, each of the monarchs is represented as a god. The pleasure-loving James I is Diana, Charles I is of course Mars, and Charles II and James II are both Venus. Chronos (Time), Momus (the complainer) and Janus (for new beginnings) complete the cast.

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Graham Lea-Cox has prepared his own edition from variously imperfect manuscripts in London (for male voices only), Oxford and Birmingham, and seems to have made a fine job of it. His performance is brisk almost to a fault, though the playing of the Hanover Band is admirably crisp. There are fine vocal contributions from Charles Daniels as Chronos, weary of bearing humankind year after year, from Judith Howarth as Diana, from Kathleen Kuhlmann as Venus (the last lines of her aria ‘Calms appear, when Storms are past’ are magically echoed by the chorus), from the clean-sounding Stephen Varcoe as Janus, and from Timothy Robinson as Momus. However, David Thomas does not make the pleasantest of sounds as Mars; sadly there are signs of possible technical problems in the upper register. The fillers – three overtures Boyce himself lifted from Court Odes and published separately – are equally fresh and accomplished. Stephen Pettitt