Notes and Editorial Reviews
Trio Sonatas: Nos. 1–15
Peter Holman, cond; Parley of Instruments (period instruments)
HYPERION 22063 (2 CDs: 122:58)
This set of the complete trio sonatas of English composer William Boyce is a Hyperion rerelease of its set from 1995. This sort of thing seems normally to be forthcoming from the budget Helios label, but in this instance the company seems to have chosen the main label for its reappearance. During the 18th century, the trio sonata seems to have been somewhat of a halfway house for
composers. Despite the fact that it was somewhat old fashioned, a holdover from the Baroque era in a period when new chamber genres were rapidly becoming the music of choice in salons and private rooms (as well as the concert hall on occasion), the trio sonata seems to have maintained its popularity long after it should have become extinct. For Boyce, one of those English transitional figures between Handel and the late century, it was the perfect genre to connect the historical stylistic dots, so to speak, offering an appealing venue for something old, something new, etc., as the saying goes.
Twelve of these 15 were published in 1747, but Boyce was well aware that the old notion of a complete continuo or the use of two non-specific melody instruments as the upper voices needed alternatives if they were to appeal to modern tastes of midcentury audiences or players. Therefore he specifically wrote for a pair of violins (as did almost everyone else, not surprisingly), but made certain that the bass was “for Violoncello or Harpsicord [sic],” implying that you could have it both ways. In addition, this recording includes three other works known only in manuscript, which the notes say are probably early works imitative of Corelli. That is a reasonable notion, particularly since these three conform strictly to the older four-movement format of alternating fast and slow tempos, although Nos. 13 and 15 also have an odd minuet attached at the end, making them more like Baroque chamber suites. What is remarkable about the rest is the wide range of musical types and styles that Boyce writes, almost as if he is experimenting genteelly with the variety of emerging forms and structures of his time. There is nothing static about these works, and one can find instances of fugues and canons (No. 9 in C Major) alongside series of Baroque dances (No. 2 in F Major with its lively gigue) and other more unusual movements, such as the solemn processional of the second movement of the Sonata No. 4 in G Minor. All of these demonstrate that Boyce was a careful and inventive composer who knew that there was life in the trio sonata and who offered something more interesting than might be provided by, say, his colleague Handel.
It is good to have this disc rereleased, particularly since it has been out of print for some time. With the new interest in English 18th-century music of late, with names such as John Marsh, William Smethergell, James Hook, et al. emerging from the archives, even as well known a name as Boyce has much to contribute. The performances by the Parley of Instruments are as skillful as they are lively. Peter Holman seems to know how to craft each and every movement so that it offers an individual musical interpretation that never strays into the commonplace or is repetitious. His alternation of a quartet of instruments (using the full continuo) and a string ensemble makes for some interesting textural differences, with the latter often sounding fuller and more rounded and the former allowing for nuances and timbral details to emerge, particularly in the imitative passages, such as the
movement that opens Sonata No. 4. If you don’t already own this set, here is your perfect opportunity to acquire it before it goes out of print … again. You will not be disappointed in the fine music or performances.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Fifteen years on these highly persuasive performances still bring a terrific amount of charm and easygoing lyricism to the table. True, you can seek an alternative, such as that provided by Simon Standage and Collegium Musicum 90 (Chaconne CHAN0648) whose one to a part performances are consistent and different to the varied quartet and orchestral expansions to be heard here - but I don’t think you will necessarily find Standage’s performances the more charming, though they do tend to be more spun out and superficially expressive.
The Parley of Instruments and Peter Holman preferred, back in October 1995, to alternate quartet and orchestral performances of the Trio sonatas. There is some evidence that not only were the Trio sonatas performed orchestrally but that some at least were devised for larger forces. Note too that Hyperion includes the three sonatas, numbered 13-15, that survive in manuscript, though not in Boyce’s hand, at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and were copied by Boyce’s pupil Samuel Wesley. They were not included in the 1747 publication of the Sonatas. Standage doesn’t include them, sticking to the canonic twelve.
Seemingly divided between odd and even sonatas into putative orchestral and quartet forces these performances work very well indeed. All the fugues for instance fall in the odd numbered sonatas and are played orchestrally, the bulk of the virtuoso writing falling in the even (quartet) sonatas. If one has reservations about this then one had better acquire the Standage.
One listens with great enjoyment, however this particular cookie is crumbled. The splendidly projected (orchestral) fugue in No.1 is adeptly projected, its succeeding finale vibrant, effortlessly melodic. Boyce also confounds expectations as to ordering of movements. Within a broadly Sonata da Chiesa and da Camera schema he shuffles movements about. In No.2 for instance an
Andante vivace is followed by a very brief
Adagio and then by two fast movements, the concluding one a
non troppo Gigue. Things are kept alive, routine is kept at bay, and the sonatas don’t fall into predictable patterns. The opening of the Third sonata is especially lovely; I suggest you try this first to see if it floats your melodic boat. It’s played orchestrally with perfectly judged weight, and is a high example of Holman and the Parley’s acute sensitivity for texture and phraseology. But this is not to underestimate the grave March of No.4, which receives the same scrupulously generous level of characterisation as do all these many movements through the fifteen sonatas. Sample therefore the
Affetuoso finale of No.6 or the noble seriousness of the
Canone of No.9. Note too now well balanced are upper and lower strings in the
Largo of No.10.
Boyce can turn out a theatrical hornpipe too, rather better indeed than his younger theatrical contemporary Samuel Arnold, whose
Polly has just been recorded and contains a plethora of such things. The fluting fiddle in the opening of No.13 is full of brio. If these uncollected sonatas are the product of Boyce’s youthful infatuation with Corelli then they are nevertheless full of good things - vigour, masculinity, and refined terpsichorean sensitivity.
Given the forgoing this idiomatically played twofer makes renewed demands on lovers of Boyce’s very individual and engaging works.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
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