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What if Richard Wagner had been quintessentially English? Now there's a thought. Would he have been like Rutland Boughton - nice, sometimes appealing, but rather ineffectual? Or would he still have been a despot and a monster?! On the surface, they had a lot in common. One was a wanted and exiled left-wing revolutionary who later wanted performances at his own theatre reserved for `ordinary working people', the other a committed socialist who wanted his music to be appreciated and be useful to the `working man' (his choral piece, Bethlehem, was first performed in modern dress as an act of solidarity with the miners and with the General Strike of 1926). One founded a Festival and a theatre on a Green Hill in Bavaria, revolutionary in its acoustics and in the works that were to be performed there, the other wanted to found a similar Festival on the Somerset Levels near a Green Hill/Tor at Glastonbury, a grandiose scheme that barely got off the ground. The key work to be performed at the first opera house was a massive 4-evening cycle based on Germanic myths, the key work for the other festival was to be a cycle of 5 operas based on the English Arthurian myths. The one developed the very Germanic theory of `Gesamtkunstwerk', the other the very English theory of `Choral Drama'.

It all leaves one feeling a little underwhelmed by Boughton, despite his ambitions. Yet he wrote the opera that had more consecutive performances than any other serious opera anywhere in the world. That was The Immortal Hour, first produced at his inaugural Glastonbury Festival in 1914 and later to run for 216 consecutive performances in London (+ another run of 160 performances the following year). In its day, it was as popular as a Lloyd Webber musical. And, if not in the Wagner class, it's a heck of a sight more musically interesting than Lord L-W. Admittedly, the Boughton symphonies and concerti are often let down by less than riveting basic melodic and thematic material. That's not true of the opera. Many of the motifs here really stick in the memory, not least the haunting evocation of `The Immortal Hour' itself. There are memorable arias and set-pieces, too. The song, "How beautiful they are, the lordly ones' became something of a party-piece for tenors between the wars. But Midir's big aria when he reminds Etain of her fairy history is a wonderful piece of invigorating vocal writing.

Dramatically the piece is flawed, it's true. Boughton lacked Wagner's ability to turn intractable dramatic material into tautly structured, psychologically penetrating music-drama. The Dalua Prologue is atmospheric but overlong. The knees-up at the court of King Eochaid also outstays its welcome (but, then, the same might be said of The Meister's Grail Knights!). But the scene in the peasant's hut when Eochaid and Etain fall for each other and the final scene when Midir lures Etain back to the Land of Faery and leaves her husband heartbroken are both moving and musically very satisfying.

The opera really didn't deserve the descent into total obscurity it suffered after the War. This recording helped to revive a limited renaissance in interest in Boughton's works. It probably remains the most satisfying of them all and that makes it well worth listening to. Alan G. Melville and the ECO play the music as though they believe in it and the result is uplifting and satisfying. Standing out among the singers are David Wilson-Johnson as King Eochaid and Maldwyn Davies as Midir. If you have any interest in the byways of English opera before Grimes, this is a disc well worth investigating.
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on 19 November 2010
Rutland Boughton is now largely forgotten and rarely performed, but in his day he was one of the best known English composers up there with Elgar and RVW. "The Immortal Hour" is his best known work, and when it came out in the 1920s was amazingly successful. I'm not sure I'd describe it quite as an opera but it certainly has operatic ambitions and serious musical content. But it had a London West End run that many frivolous stage musicals would only envy.

Despite the undoubted quality of its music, it is however very much a product of its time, that tapped somehow into the desire for something more, a striving for some kind of spiritual nirvana after the horrors of WW1. Today the Celtic mysticism of its libretto is, to me at least, obscure, and if I had to watch it on stage would have me looking at my watch after the first half hour or so. But listening to it on CD lets you hear and appreciate something of the music. In all candour though, despite an excellent performance and recording here, I wouldn't rate it more than an intriguing curiosity that hasn't stood the test of time. But it's worth having if, like me, you're interested in exploring some of the lesser known English composers.
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on 25 August 2008
I had never heard of this composer until very recently whilst reading a biogrpahy of Ralph Vaughan Williams, whom Boughton appears to have known well (or at least well enough to have had several arguments about politics with). Reading that like RVW, Boughton was heavily influenced by folk music, I took a chance and got a copy. I can now say it was well worth - a beautiful opera, beautifully played and sung. That's all there is to it.
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on 28 April 2016
A truly inspiring and deeply moving musical journey of opera, choral, and orchestral music, filled with great beauty and sadness. Allow yourself to be transported into Fiona MacLeod's magical vision. This work is a true treasure of Glastonbury and the pride of English opera.
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on 24 March 2013
I knew very little about Boughton's work, but this is a fine and clear recording. Music of the intellect rather than the heart, I would say.
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Previous reviewers are rather more enthusiastic than I am prepared to be about this historically important British opera, now fallen into obscurity, but once a runaway, smash hit. Its late-Romantic, post-Tristan yearning for still peace and beauty must have been seen as an escape from the turbulent times of its 1914 premiere and struck a chord in the public. It continued to draw audiences throughout the Roaring Twenties, yet today it seems rather static and quaint in its Celtic whimsy and lack of incident. Wagner's influence in the music is clear, and manifested in the use of through composition, chromatic harmonies, leitmotivs and the mythological subject, but it has little of the Master's psychological insight or grand sweep - and can hardly be called "epic", as a previous reviewer suggests. It is in fact often rather small-scale and etiolated, although there are many incidences of beauty. The singing is particularly fine; all the principals maintain a lovely, steady line and enunciate cleanly, and Roderick Kennedy in particular brings a grave dignity to his role as chief bore, Dalua, and the Geoffrey Mitchell choir is impressive. The orchestra and direction, too, seem wholly attuned to the gentle demands of the music. The melodies are sometimes charming, sometimes slightly meandering.

This is certainly of interest to opera-lovers, especially those in sympathy with that peculiarly British attachment to "the Faery world". I do not think I shall find myself playing this too often, yet there is a hypnotic fascination in the other-wordly ambience Boughton generates.
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on 9 January 2014
THIS WONDERFUL MUSIC DRAMA IS QUITE EXCEPTIONAL ON ALL COUNTS.V ENGLISH IN TONE THINK DELIUS MEETS VAUGHAN WILLIAMS.THE OTHER RUTLAND OPERAS ARE ALSO SUPERB
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