BWW Reviews: Boykan and BMOP Present Boykan's ORCHESTRAL WORKS
Martin Boykan is certainly one of the most influential of our modern composers, as well as one of those most clearly influenced beneficently by grounding both in the modern European orchestral traditions and in the modern American neo-classical traditions of the early and mid-Twentieth Century. Anyone whose influences are both Copland and Schoenberg should have an intriguing outlook on musicality, and Boykan, in his compositions, shows a clear and, while frequently unusual, still appealing, philosophy of sound.
Best known as a chamber music composer, he has nonetheless written a fine orchestral pieces, which are on display in the recent BMOP release, MARTIN BOYKAN: ORCHESTRAL WORKS. With the assistance of violin virtuoso Curtis Macomber and popular opera baritone Sanford Sylvan, who has multiple Grammys to his name, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and conductor Gil Rose have, under their successful BMOP label, released a compact disc illustrating Boykan's mastery of composition for full orchestra and soloists. Boykan's 2003 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra is followed by the worthy Symphony for Orchestra with its baritone setting of Keats' sonnet "To Sleep".
The Concerto begins with an andante movement, opening with a deep, lyrical string line accompanied by clarinet and more strings, strongly reminiscent of Schoenberg, and perpetually returns to the opening notes as Macomber moves up the register. Macomber's handling of the solo line has a deft lightness to it, especially as both he and the orchestra end the movement dramatically but quietly. The second movement, "L'istesso tempo," opens with Macomber soloing as in the first movement, but in higher register and with a more determined pace, while percussion enters more prominently than in the first movement. Finally, the Allegro giocoso brings strings and percussion into competition at a more pronounced tempo, leading into a dissonance punctuated by Macomber's rising register (yet with a continued lightness in a particularly dynamic moment). Macomber's solo contrasts with the strong, ever-darkening mood of the rest of the orchestra as the movement ends. A combination of traditional structure with a modern and fresh interpretation of rhythm and use of orchestra against the soloist, the Concerto is presented masterfully under Rose's baton.
The fifteen-year gap between the concerto and the earlier Symphony for Orchestra illustrates the changes in Boykan's work, but no difference in merit. The symphony is constructed around a Keats sonnet, with Boykan's thought that the first three movements represent the earlier parts of the day, coming at the end to sleep and to Sylvan's dramatic performance of Keats' sonnet. Its first movement, representing dawn, is Un poco sustenuto, with drastically fluctuating shifts in register and tempo but with dramatic use of the various bass register instruments and the tuba. Once more, Boykan's sound strikingly recalls Schoenberg's influence. The scherzo becomes a more dynamic, pulsing movement of literal motion, heavily emphasizing a dialogue of brass and woodwinds, but with a fine exchange between strings and percussion near the end. The adagio movement is as short as the first is lengthy, heavily ornamented at points and indeed slow, drawing the day to a close and preparing the listener for Keats' sonnet. Finally, the fourth movement is Sylvan's performance of Keats' sonnet, with the BMOP providing the background. Reminiscent of many of the best mid-Twentieth Century arias, it is a beguiling piece, Sylvan's voice as dark and brooding as the orchestral accompaniment.
It is a pity for orchestra fans that for such a prolific and innovative composer, these two works are essentially Boykan's only major later works for full orchestra; the rest of his composition is primarily chamber orchestra work. BMOP's recording of them is a critical step in generating future performances of these works. As usual with BMOP, its emphasis on individual composers as the basis of their recordings is well worthwhile, and the liner notes are heavily detailed, a treasure for those who wish greater insight into what they are hearing. The notes and the performance of Keats' sonnet alone are worth the purchase of this recording.
Graphic credit: BMOP