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Boyce, Arne, Linley & Handel

The English Concert – conducted by Laurence Cummings
Mark Padmore – tenor

Boyce – Symphony No 5 in D major
Arne – Three Shakespeare Songs
Linley, Jr – Ode on the Spirits of Shakespeare – Overture
Handel – Samson – Total eclipse; Jephtha  - His mighty arm;  Waft her, angels;  
Water Music – Suites in D major & G Major (selection)

Proms Saturday Matinee – 18 August 2007  Cadogan Hall, London SW3

Neither William Boyce nor Thomas Linley, junior features widely in concert programmes, making it doubly interesting to hear them set in context against their more familiar contemporaries George Frederic Handel and Thomas Arne.

Boyce’s Symphony No 5 lasts a mere 8 minutes; more correctly it should be described as an overture in the baroque style, and was written as such for one of the traditional St Cecilia’s Day odes.   It gets underway with a flourish of trumpets, before settling into a graceful gavotte succeeded by a nimble footed minuet – just the sort of stylish miniature that shows the players of the English Concert under Laurence Cummings to best advantage. 

A boating accident cut short Thomas Linley’s life at 22.  Already he was showing huge promise as a composer yet his Ode on the Spirits of Shakespeare had remained unperformed since its 1776 premier.   The Proms debut of its overture was sufficient to reveal a distinctive musical voice and possibly stimulate interest for it to be heard again in its entirety. 

Mark Padmore appeared first with three Shakespeare songs by Thomas Arne, linked also by birdsong imitations well appreciated by the audience.  Padmore, score in hand, seemed a little tentative and in a momentary lapse of concentration repeated the first verse of Under the Greenwood Tree.    He was on much surer ground with Handel, where he must be regarded as the leading exponent in exploring the psychological depths of the oratorio characters.   

His first aria from Samson conveyed the full measure of the hero’s desperation at being deprived of his sight.   He brought out both the power of his fury and wretchedness of his pleading.

Next two items from Jephtha which Padmore has performed in a staged version for both WNO and ENO.    His mighty arm is a real bravura piece, jubilant in the wake of victory with lavish ornamentation imitating the speed and might of his vengeance.  But repentance follows swiftly when Jephtha realises that the price he must pay is the sacrifice of his daughter.   Waft her, angels is an introverted piece, here delivered with concentration and real warmth that conjured images of a soul rising to peace.  If I were ever limited to the proverbial Desert Island musical allowance, this aria, with this singer, would be high on my list. 

Serena Fenwick