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Boughton, Bainton: Orchestral Tone Poems / Yates

Release Date: 01/11/2011 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 7262   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Rutland BoughtonEdgar Bainton
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BOUGHTON Love and Spring. Troilus & Cressida. A Summer Night. BAINTON Paracelsus. Pompilia. Prometheus Martin Yates, cond; Royal Scottish Natl O DUTTON 7262 (76:47)

All six of the works on this album are announced as world premiere recordings, and I’ve no reason to doubt that. Fate hasn’t been kind to the reputations of Rutland Boughton (1878–1960) and Edgar Bainton (1880–1956). Lifelong friends, the former lost both financial support and Read more a prestigious platform for his music after producing his choral drama, Bethlehem , in London, in protest over the 1926 Miners’ Lockout. The conservative, reticent style of Bainton in turn did little to gain his music much attention as the century wore on, and his emigration to Sydney in 1934 as director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium didn’t help keep his name in the public eye back in the U.K.

The earliest of the lot is Boughton’s A Summer Night , composed in 1899 though subsequently revised; the latest, Love and Spring , from 1914. Five of the six were performed during their creator’s lifetime, though Bainton had the pleasure of conducting his Prometheus within months of its completion in May 1909, and the considerable displeasure of finishing Paracelsus in 1904, revising it in 1913, and only leading its premiere in 1921. (The sixth, Boughton’s Troilus & Cressida , was withdrawn with the comment, “It is a piece which I prefer to keep to myself. All my music is really autobiography, but this one is too intimate to concern audiences.”) These tone poems follow the general practice of Liszt and Tchaikovsky, being broadly programmatic instead of following a specific sequence of events.

Dutton stacks its cards wisely with the brightest and most immediately appealing work at the head of this release. Love and Spring is an ebullient piece, taking its cue from a Song of Solomon quote: “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past.” Musically, it’s all aspiring youth, optimistic energy, an excellent reflection of that immortality that youth possesses for a brief span of years. It is melodically distinctive, but the most striking aspect of the work is its coruscating instrumentation. Boughton was harmonically conservative, but the way he brilliantly (and sometimes delicately) applies lessons learned from the Wagnerian orchestra highlights his harmonies in such a way as to make them more striking in context. Everything that’s old, is clean and new; that applies to the musical content of Love and Spring , as much as it does to the perennial freshness of its theme. But as much can be said for his other two tone poems on this release, Troilus & Cressida and A Summer Night . There’s a bloom on the bud here that can be heard in several of the songs Sir Tristram sings in The Queen of Cornwall , but only fitfully in other, later works of Boughton’s I’ve heard live or on disc.

The Bainton tone poems are less immediately appealing, less “photogenic.” His ideas require and use fewer solo passages, though the string writing in particular is idiomatic. His opening themes in all three instances are tense, chromatic, and almost athematic. Lyricism is held carefully in check throughout, despite the strong stylistic influence of Tchaikovsky. The best of the lot for internal coherency and variety of content on several levels is Prometheus , but it doesn’t hang together particularly well. Its opening theme, depicting the spirit of Prometheus, is cleverly transformed into something appropriately exalted in the coda, but the Pomp and Circumstance -like march it becomes feels wildly out of place both for the rest of the work and its given subject. It does, however, possess a subsidiary theme with genuine character, and as with everything else I’ve heard by Bainton, the treatment is ingenious. Still, after having heard an album of excellent non-programmatic works by the composer (Chandos 10460, reviewed in Fanfare 32:2), I’d hoped for something with more profile. Perhaps Albert Coates, in one of those manic, whip-snapping recordings of his (Coates’s 1929 Karneval springs to mind), could have generated more electricity, but I’m not at all sure it’s actually present in this music.

Certainly Martin Yates, whom I’ve both criticized and praised in these pages, makes as much of whatever color exists in these works. The phrasing of the shimmering strings, winds, and harp around the subsidiary theme in A Summer Night is lovingly detailed, with the brass brought in softly as the tempo increases. The final pages of Prometheus , despite my criticism, are played with great attention to balance between strings and divided brass; and so it goes. Under his baton, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra has all the suavity, richness, and character one could desire, and the engineering reveals these qualities without being obtrusive in the process.

In short, if I’m moderately disappointed by the Bainton, I’m delighted with both the Boughton and these performances. Get it for the latter pair, and if you disagree with me about Bainton’s tone poems, well then, all the better for you and your purchase.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Love and Spring, Op. 23 by Rutland Boughton
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Troilus and Cressida, Op. 17 by Rutland Boughton
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
A Summer Night, Op. 5 by Rutland Boughton
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Paracelsus, Op. 8 by Edgar Bainton
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Pompilia, Op. 11 by Edgar Bainton
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Prometheus, Op. 19 by Edgar Bainton
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra

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