Some of the critical acclaim for Shapes of Sleep.

Gramophone, February 2007

The great delight hereTHE GREAT DELIGHT HERE is the warm, songful, sometimes sing-song lines James Boyd coaxes from his guitar. So that, in Dowland and Tippett alike, he remains a comforting and enthusiastic companion. A clever programme plays to Boyd's strengths – not only his full-bodied tone but also his intelligence. These are performances that are always going somewhere.”

Editor’s Choice, February 2007

“With Shapes of Sleep, guitarist James Boyd, inspired by night, dreams, melancholy and the moody, timeless nature of the East Anglian landscape where he makes his home, has put together a programme in which he inverts ‘the new moon with the old moon in her arms’ by cradling Tippett’s The Blue Guitar and Britten’s Nocturnal in the arms of Dowland’s music. The effect is quite beautiful: Tippett’s colourful evocation of both Picasso’s painting and the Wallace Stevens poem that it inspired rises effortlessly out of Dowland’s Chromatic Fancy before sinking into another Dowland fantasy; Boyd’s transcription of Dowland’s Flow my teares then prepares the way for Britten’s variations on Come heavy sleep.

Boyd’s interpretative approach is based on the human voice – his training included vocal studies with countertenor Charles Brett – and this comes across in a lyrical style enriched by a gorgeous tone and generous tempi (some may find them too generous: Boyd’s Nocturnal is around 20 minutes compared with Bream’s 14 minutes or so). But what most impresses is a sense of naturalness, of ebb and flow, recalling both Bream’s and Segovia’s willingness to savour the moment. This is particularly evident in Flow my Teares: Boyd’s playing seems irradiated by the import of the original song’s text.

This impressively eloquent recital has been perfectly captured by John Taylor in the Snape Maltings; booklet-notes and packaging are of the same high standard. Would that there were more classical guitarists around with Boyd’s taste and imagination.”

— William Yeoman (quoted by kind permission of Gramophone)

International Record Review, December 2006

Beautifully recordedBEAUTIFULLY RECORDED at The Maltings, Snape, James Boyd’s solo début CD is easily one of the most aesthetically satisfying classical guitar discs to have crossed my desk in many a while. Boyd, in part inspired by his East Anglian home and how ‘the melancholy of the Elizabethan era filters down through the weight of years, casting long shadows into the world of modern composers’, has come up with a programme that seems to form one gigantic suite of perfect proportions.

From the gentle repeated note with which the first Dowland Fantasia starts, the whole recital seems to arise. The first few bars of this often highly chromatic piece are disorientating in their modernity, thus presaging the Tippett; the typically Renaissance counterpoint looks forward to the second Dowland Fantasia on the disc; both aspects combine in Britten’s Nocturnal. Boyd’s style, too, is neatly summarised here: the rhythmic freedom, the generous tonal palette, the dynamic shading, the rhetorical control are all present and accounted for.

The ground thus prepared, Boyd moves on to Tippett’s The Blue Guitar, a three-movement work inspired by the Wallace Stevens poem that was in turn inspired by Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. ‘Transforming’ sees another gentle beginning, this time fractured by metallic tones that expand into frustrated fanfares amid softer musings; Boyd’s tonal control is again very much in evidence. The frenetic array of textures and effects in ‘Juggling’ likewise elicits a masterly combination of technique and artistry; in ‘Dreaming’ the sense of timelessness and shifting dreamscapes in which harmonics and pianissimo chords whisper amid more strident interjections is beautifully conveyed by Boyd, looking forward to the similarly titled section in Britten’s Nocturnal.

The Dowland Fantasia that follows allows Boyd to build up a reservoir of tension that is slowly dissipated in the guitarist’s own arrangement of Dowland’s song Flow my Tears. Each note of the melody falls like a teardrop, such is the sheer beauty of tone and deeply expressive phrasing Boyd lavishes on this piece (in such fine style will Boyd end the Britten, and thus the recital, too). Boyd’s intention was to capture something of the quality of Alfred Deller’s voice (whose recording of the song inspired this arrangement). He succeeds admirably.

The preceding pair of pieces mirrors the effect of Britten’s famous Nocturnal after John Dowland, where a set of variations culminates in a tense passacaglia before a release in the form of the theme, that of Dowland’s song Come Heavy Sleep. Even here, though, Boyd keeps his eye on the overall effect of the recital: this is a remarkably restrained performance, full of subtlety and suggestion, and all the more successful for that.”

— Robert Levett (quoted by kind permission of
International Record Review)

Classic fm magazine, March 2007

Haunting guitar recitalHAUNTING GUITAR RECITAL from James Boyd.

It’s not the playing, it’s often how young musicians distribute the fruits of their labour to the CD buying public that’s more of a problem. Boyd has taken matters into his own hands by self-producing this fine CD, with cover art to rival major labels and finely nuanced playing to boot. Britten’s expansive solo work reconstitutes in 20th century terms Dowland’s ancient melancholia, while Tippett’s slightly kinky and harmonically prodigious Blue Guitar emerges as the wild card. Recorded at the Snape Maltings, this album is a beautiful thing.”

— Phillip Clark (quoted by kind permission of Classic fm)