Peter Boyer’s Cinematic First Symphony

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Two of the works on this disc appeared previously on Koch’s collection of Boyer’s orchestral music: Celebration Overture and Three Olympians (as in residents of Mount Olympus, not athletes) for strings. The latter must rank among Boyer’s finest pieces. It has great tunes and exploits the timbres of the string orchestra in a very fetching and vivid way. If the third movement, Ares, sounds a lot like Holst’s Mars, with its col legno strings, so much the better.

Boyer’s music is cinematic in a very literal sense. It sounds like a film score, albeit one with a clearly articulated form, and there’s no shame in that. Additionally, Boyer uses themes the way many Hollywood composers do. They undergo simple transformations in which, for instance, the rousing music of the opening returns in slower tempo as a central, lyrical interlude (much as in a Liszt tone poem).

Silver Fanfare, Festivities, and that Celebration Overture are all short, splashy, tuneful occasional works, and probably great fun to play. The London Philharmonic under the composer’s confident direction does a fine job with them. There are moments when the scoring sounds a touch formulaic: too many licks for snare drum, glockenspiel, and phrases joined together with suspended cymbal crescendos.

I have come to the reluctant conclusion, as a percussionist, that modern composers use so much of that section simply because it’s there, not out of any particular necessity. The truth is that the effectiveness of much percussion is inversely proportional to its frequency of use, but at least in Boyer’s case the style really is a style, and not an affectation or lazy habit. The glitz and glamor come as part of the whole package, and suit the melodic vocabulary.

That brings us to the First Symphony of 2012-13. The work is dedicated to the memory of Leonard Bernstein. It follows the same slow-fast-slow pattern as the Jeremiah Symphony, although the mood of Boyer’s finale is serene and ultimately triumphant, a far cry from Bernstein’s lament. Harmonically too the music is very tonal, and very conservatively tonal at that. Bernstein’s symphony of some 70 years ago is far more dissonant, but we are (thankfully) past the time when musical “progress” was defined by the level of harmonic complexity–or just plain aural nastiness.

Like all of the music on this disc, the symphony is tuneful, expertly crafted, colorfully scored, and if the central Scherzo/Dance sounds suspiciously like the theme to Mission Impossible (the original television show), well, I love the theme to Mission Impossible. So there. Boyer knows what he wants, and how to do it. This very well engineered disc is lots of fun, and a really good listen.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

    Silver Fanfare; Festivities; Three Olympians; Celebration Overture; Symphony No. 1

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