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His own man

Reconsidering Rutland Boughton, with PETER DALE


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So the sound is clearly individual, but it breaks no new ground - it probably seemed rather old-fashioned in 1939, but now, sixty years later, who cares? The orchestra, under Vernon Handley, clearly enjoyed performing for this new recording - trombones and tuba especially, but everyone gets a look in, and the result is an important, very enjoyable 'new' symphony, quite obviously written by a major, if probably not a great, composer.

The Oboe Concerto is a delight - vigorous string textures and virtuosic for the soloist. [Click to listen.] It has a Holstian out-of-door feel to it (isn't that endemic in the instrument itself?). I thought I heard (probably coincidental) Sibelian nuances here and there and, of course, it invites comparison with Vaughan Williams' own concerto. They are about the same (quite modest) length and both eschew the much greater orchestral palettes of the Strauss and even the Mozart concertos. Both share a connection with Leon Goosens too, though in fact Boughton was writing for his own daughter - clearly no mean player (Britten wrote his Ovid Metamorphoses for her).

Most of all, it has a kinship with Finzi. Anyone who enjoys the latter's Clarinet Concerto will enjoy this too. But though it may share kinship, it deserves a life of its own. This is music of quality.

Curiously, and sadly ironically also, the first European performance was given at Salzburg by the Boyd Neel Orchestra. In the same programme was the premiere of Britten's Frank Bridge Variations. That would not be a bad combination to revive now, though the relative fortunes have been so different, so far. Rutland Boughton couldn't even afford the bus fare from Gloucester to Oxford to hear his own work performed.

On this disc it is beautifully played by the strings of the Royal Philharmonic and Sarah Francis, a most skilful and sensitive advocate of this skilful and sensitive music. Clearly Vernon Handley's heart is in the work too. Once again, we owe him a debt for revealing a quite unjustifiably neglected masterpiece. [Click to listen.]

Copyright © Peter Dale, October 31st 1999


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