> Bowen, Austin, Bainton [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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York BOWEN (1884-1961)

Symphony No. 2 in E minor (1909-11) [32.47]
Frederic AUSTIN (1872-1952)

Symphonic Rhapsody: Spring (1902-07) [14.55]
Edgar BAINTON (1880-1956)

Symphonic Movement Genesis (1920) [19.56]
Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra conducted by Douglas Bostock
rec. RNCM Manchester, 15-16 Dec 2001
Three world premiere recordings
The British Symphonic Collection - Vol. 10


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This CD, packed to the gunwhales, is an answer to those of us who have berated the companies for constant reploughing of the same repertoire. Here are three world premiere recordings casting shafts of light on British music in the periods just before and just after the Great War - an event that made and unmade the reputations of so many composers.

Bowen's Second (of three; there is talk of a Fourth but nothing survives) is a work of Tchaikovskian tendencies. It is rolling and positive rather than neurosis-ridden. It might well be thought of as a counterpart to the better Glazunov symphonies such as the Fourth and Fifth and to Tchaikovsky's Hamlet and Tempest. Its themes - especially in the first movement - have a touch of both Grainger and Delius. The first movement begins with a barked out motto theme. The work was favoured by the conductor Landon Ronald, an early champion of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony.

Frederic Austin's fancy must have been taken by Frank Bridge's earlier works such as The Sea as well as by the earlier tone poems of Richard Strauss. His Spring is voluptuous music without the profusion of layers Strauss would have added. As a result the textures remain transparent and the effect clear. This vernal rhapsody has something in common with Bax's Spring Fire (though it is not as iconoclastically impressionistic) and Happy Forest.

Lastly comes Edgar Bainton's twenty minute, purely orchestral, prelude (entitled Genesis) to his choral symphony Before Sunrise. The Symphony sets words by Swinburne whose 'Atalanta in Calydon' also prompted Bax's Spring Fire symphony. Bainton was to write four symphonies of which this was the (unnumbered) second. The visionary-angry impressionism of the Third (a work of the early 1950s) regrettably remains a closed book to those who do not have access to the primitive Brolga LP of the Australian premiere.

While the other pieces were completely unknown to me as a listening experience Genesis had been broadcast by the BBC in 1995 in a studio version by the BBC Concert Orchestra. This version easily outstrips that dutiful and rather muddy off-air tape. The work certainly emerges as a more rugged and impressive work than hitherto without having the mastery of the Second and Third Symphonies; the former recorded on Chandos.

Genesis starts amid the sort of gloomy introspection favoured by Scriabin and Miaskovsky and by Rachmaninov in his Isle of the Dead. Even the allegro section at about 12.12 sounds somewhat like the scherzo of Scriabin's First Symphony leading into a screwing up of cataclysmic tension. This will leave you wanting to hear the rest of the work.

This issue paves the way for a new generation of British recording premieres. There are the piano concertos by Holbrooke (numbers 2 and 3 stand in waiting), Bowen (4) and Coke (6), Austin's one and only symphony, Coke's three and Baines' single symphony not to mention the first three symphonies (pre-Great War) of Joseph Holbrooke. I hope that Douglas Bostock and the RNCM might be interested enough in these projects to develop them. Until then these three works offer pleasure and revelation.

Rob Barnett

See also review by Raymond Walker


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