Melba Recordings

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The Virtuoso Piano Music of George Frederick Boyle

18/06/2012
Audiophilia (Canada)
Andy Fawcett

This disc arrived unexpectedly and, playing it before reading the CD booklet, I was struck by a sound that seemed to combine elements of Busoni and Debussy. A rare moment of insight on my part, as it transpires that Boyle had been instrumental in popularising Debussy’s music with American audiences, while Busoni was his teacher for five years and single greatest influence.

In 1910, aged just 24 and on the brink of achieving global recognition, George Frederick Boyle was appointed head of the Peabody Institute’s piano department and, until his death in the late ‘40s, pursued a career as a virtuoso pianist, conductor, composer and teacher – including lengthy spells at the Curtis and Juilliard schools. Embraced enthusiastically by an American musical establishment which claimed him for their own, Boyle was actually an Australian … and with these world premiere recordings, compatriot Timothy Young aims to challenge the almost total obscurity that has befallen Boyle’s substantial body of composition.

The opening Ballade makes a statement of expressiveness and individualism; absorbing, yet ultimately transcending, influences from the Romantic and Impressionist periods, it packs an extraordinary range of emotions, themes and continuous invention into just 12 minutes. The imposing Sonata that follows demonstrates a similar directness and strongly melodic foundation, with little of the whimsy that characterised the impressionists. Ending with a set of appealing miniatures that Boyle dedicated to individual students, Timothy Young’s debut solo recording for Melba confirms the exceptional promise he showed as an accompanist on marvellous discs of Stravinsky and Koechlin previously featured in these pages.

Recording quality is predictably fine, offering a supremely natural and spatially coherent listener’s view of a piano in a real acoustic space; this in contrast with the much closer perspective of Leslie Howard’s recent Rachmaninov disc, so take your pick! Downloads are also available, including hi-rez 24/96, though the unmatched quality of Melba’s packaging and artwork always makes their CDs such nice things to own. Another triumph for Melba, then, in an inspired series of releases that have restored unjustly neglected music to the catalogue … made bittersweet by the misguided withdrawal of the government funding which facilitated these globally-acclaimed projects. Please register your protest by buying a copy! AF