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York Bowen – The Complete Solo 78 rpm Recordings
CD 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major Op 58 [29:17]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No. 2 in C minor BWV826: Capriccio [1:51]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 13 in E flat major Op. 27 No. 1: I. Andante [3:18]
Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major Op. 78 I. Allegro non troppo [6:31]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op. 26: Allegro [7:20]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Années de pèlerinage, première année - Suisse S160: Eglogue [3:15]
Ignaz MOSCHELES (1794-1870)  
Etude Op. 70 No. 5 [1:40]
Peggy COCHRANE
Le Ruisseau [1:30]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Capriccio in B minor Op. 76 No. 2 [3:01]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Scherzo in E minor Op. 16 No. 2 [2:30]
Eduard SCHÜTT (1856-1933)
Etude Mignonne in D major Op. 16 No. 1 [2:03]
CD 2
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No. 3 in A flat major Op. 47 [6:14]
Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 31 [7:37]
Waltz in A flat major Op. 34 No. 1 [4:00]
Polonaise in C sharp minor Op. 26 No. 1 [3:50]
Etude in E minor Op. 25 No. 5 [3:20]
Twenty-Four Preludes Op. 28: Nos. 23 [0:59], 20 [1:50] and 3 [0:55]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 G minor [3:41]
Polichinelle Op. 3 No. 4 [3:24]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Estampes - Jardins sous la pluie [3:13]
Arabesque No. 2 in G major [3:11]
Balfour GARDINER (1877-1950)
Five Pieces: III. London Bridge [1:41]; V. Gavotte [1:40]
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Suite No. 2 Op 30: Finale 'A Romp' [2:22]
The Way to Polden, An Ambling Tune, Op 76 [3:13]
Arabesque Op 20 No 1 [3:42]
Fragments from Hans Andersen Op 58: Thumbelina; The Windmill  (with spoken introductions) [1:51 + 2:05]
York Bowen (piano)
The Aeolian Orchestra/Stanley Chapple
rec. 1923-27 except  the Mendelssohn and Schütt, recorded c.1914
APR 6007 [62:23 + 58:58]
Experience Classicsonline

The composer York Bowen was something of a discographic pioneer. A fine pianist he left a number of recordings, of which this APR disc constitutes the entirety of the solo piano recordings on 78. APR have phrased it thus because he recorded the Brahms Trio for piano, violin and horn with colleagues Spencer Dyke and Aubrey Brain. I’ve got that on NGS 78s and it’s a fine achievement though it also emerged on an LP transfer and Andrew Rose has issued it in his ongoing gargantuan compendium of National Gramophonic Society releases on Pristine Audio. Bowen also recorded for Lyrita, recordings which have recently been reissued and reviewed here. A live broadcast of Bowen essaying his own Fourth Concerto with Boult in 1937 also circulates among collectors.
 
Talking of Fourth Piano Concertos Bowen’s was the first recording of Beethoven’s G major. As with almost all these discs the undertaking was English Vocalion’s. The conductor was Stanley Chapple, a leading force in the company at the time, one who conducted and accompanied for soloists, sometimes I should think anonymously. The orchestra is quite small and as was de rigeur it was beefed up with bass stiffening – brass basses – to amplify lower frequencies. Bowen’s playing is light and fluid. His two cadenzas will not be to our tastes necessarily – indeed they were not to contemporary taste either and there’s a huffing and puffing critique reprinted in the booklet notes to that effect. But the harmonic drift to Chopin is certainly novel. The slow movement is pliant not metaphysical. In the finale Chapple gets a touch bogged down but otherwise this is a splendid survival, recorded by the late acoustic process so necessarily rather constricted. 
 
There are two disc’s worth of Bowen the pianist in this well filled set and plenty to arrest the imagination. Let me first of all congratulate APR for having tracked down the AFMC disc recorded c.1923 and quite rare. And even more so for having traced the single Marathon side that Bowen recorded c.1914 - one that I didn’t know about. This was a coupling of Mendelssohn and Schütt, lighter fare that suited Bowen’s flexible elegance perfectly. The copies are a little worn but they are rare. We have a solitary example of Bach and it sounds in good estate and some more Beethoven. My own copy of the Op.78 sonata is rather rough as are, I suspect, most copies. Ward Marston has exercised his usual expertise on these tracks and effected very enjoyable and moreover listenable transfers, though occasionally he’s had to suppress some room ambience (it’s there in Op.78 for instance, recorded in 1927 electrically). Mention of electrical recording reminds one of the inferior Marconi process Vocalion employed, by which time Western Electric was dominating. Sometimes in fact late acoustic Vocalions are better than their early electrics; more than sometimes actually.  Bowen’s Schumann is bold and straightforward stylistically. He also essays the work of a younger contemporary, the violinist-pianist-occasional composer Peggy Cochrane. She recorded for Broadcast as a fiddler. Her Le Ruisseau is a pleasing confection, deftly played.
 
The Chopin series that dominates the second disc introduces us to stronger musical meat. He proves a robust, unselfconscious and unmannered Chopin player. Once again the Marconi electrics are serviceable in catching his tonal qualities. The Third Ballade and Second Scherzo in particular are major statements of Bowen’s interpretative insight. He plays Rachmaninoff especially well – the G minor Prelude is stirring – and given the appellation of the ‘English Rachmaninoff’ that’s of some interest perhaps, even if you don’t accept the premise in the first place or in its entirety.  And he digs into Debussy as well playing Jardins sous la pluie and the Arabesque No.2 with insight. Balfour Gardiner’s two little pieces are light and are less well recorded – those damned Marconi electrics again – but we end with a sequence of Bowen’s own things. Again these are light so don’t expect the ‘deep’ stuff. We even hear him introduce a couple of the Fragments from Hans Andersen Op.58. If you think he sounds a touch drawly then you should hear Vocalion’s 1920-22 reciter, who filled earlier records with a single side of ‘explanatory notes’ in a voice that would have made Donald Wolfit blush.
 
With first rate and extensive discographic information and Jonathan Summer’s well-crafted and helpful notes this is an important contribution to the history of the piano on record.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

 


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