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YORK BOWEN (1884-1961) Piano Music   Stephen Hough (piano) rec London, Sept 1995 HYPERION CDA66838 [77.20]


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24 preludes Op. 102 (Nos 1, 2, 10, 7, 8, 22, 21, 15, 16, 6, 19, 20, 18)
Ballade No. 2
Sonata No. 5
Moto Perpetuo
Romance No. 1
Romance No. 2

This collection has been extremely successful, so much so that I would not be at all surprised if a second volume were to be issued.

While I rather regret the decision to play only a selection rather than the complete sequence of preludes (unlike the obscure Opès 3D recital by Marie-Catherine Girod) the anthology certainly picks plums with discerning abandon.

Bowen was highly praised by Sorabji but, rather like Medtner, for many years his music was perceived as stick-in-the-mud reactionary. Certainly unfashionable during the 1940s-1970s Bowen's time may well be now.

His music is lifted and borne along by the romantic mainstream of Rachmaninov. In the preludes Rachmaninov and Medtner are the predominant background voices with Bowen's well to the fore. There is very little folk song except perhaps in No. 16. Bowen does not make you work as hard at enjoying the music as Goossens when he leans into a folk song. Still this is not facile material and Bowen's sincerity (and memorability) is patent.

Notable amongst the cycle are 19 (gracious without complex cross-currents); 18 stormily splenetic amidst the arching grandeur and 20: irritably plunging.

Of the other works the 1931 Ballad No 2 has many winsome twists and slopes parallel with the contemporaneous Bax Winter Legends at 1.23. The music has a Warlockian fall, droop and plangency. The Fifth Sonata is variously steady, wind-tossed, poised in tranced silence (the central andante is a highlight) and the finale mixes ragtime, Whirligig and Goyescas. The 1921 Berceuse smacks of Korngold. The 1917 Moto Perpetuo is a fever-pitch dash. There is a nervous late (1957) Toccata and the two Romances (1913, 1917) both dedicated to Bowen's wife reflect Chopin and Impressionism. The second romance ends audaciously quiet - eschewing the barn and the storm.

Good and highly detailed notes by Francis Potts and Stephen Hough. Text in English only - perhaps a comment on Hyperion's view of the market for the music or more likely a reflection of the fact that if rendered in three languages the notes might span circa 34 pages.

What next? Well, after a complete Bowen (including the four piano concertos with Hough at the helm, I hope!) we will have to start a reassessment of that other British successor to Rachmaninov's mantle: Roger Sacheverell Coke, and amongst the living we must hear Lionel Sainsbury (his preludes are a treasure - as is his Waltonian violin concerto), Francis Pott and Ian Venables (whose songs and piano quintet urgently merit close attention). A warm recommendation for this Hyperion disc.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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