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York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Flute Sonata Op. 120 (1946) [17.04]
Oboe Sonata Op. 85 (1927) [15.51]
Clarinet Sonata Op. 109 (1943) [15.42]
Horn Sonata Op. 101 (1937) [15.44]
Endymion Ensemble: Helen Keen (flute); Melinda Maxwell (oboe); Mark van de Wiel (clarinet); Stephen Stirling (horn); Michael Dussek (piano).
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 3-5 Sept 2002. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7129 [65.36]

Four quarter hour wind sonatas by the late romantic British composer York Bowen - another man whose music has been deservedly resurrected from the crypt in which fashion had walled it up.

Lyrita recorded some of Bowen’s solo piano music with the man himself in the 1950s on a mono LP. There was the odd chamber piece on LPs here and there including one of the viola sonatas on Melodiya! Even Sorabji's glowing endorsement of Bowen's music failed to stem the decline still less reverse it. Since the onslaught of the CD he has done much better. Now seemingly lost from sight Marie-Catherine Girod's complete 24 Preludes on Opès 3D made an impact and should be reissued (who has the master tapes?). Stephen Hough's mixed all-Bowen recital on Hyperion probably did more than any other disc to remake the Bowen reputation and credibility. Since then there has been a magnificent disc of the two string quartets on a British Music Society CD (not to be missed on any account [triple review]- it can be ordered from this site and from Mr Stephen Trowell, 7 Tudor Gardens, Upminster, Essex RM14 3DE. phone: 01708 224795) as well as several other Bowen chamber discs in the Epoch series.

The Flute Sonata is a gentle starter in the borderlands between whimsy and abandon. It is the soul-mate of the Bax sonata for viola and harp - mercurial, damp with nostalgic regret yet ultimately care-free. Helen Keen is notable for her clean unbreathy work sans sibilants and some lovely pointed playing. This is not a sonata defined by a single undifferentiated legato.

Ornament and idyll play like shafts of light through the pages of the Oboe Sonata. It is done with breathtaking skill and artistry so that the line of the melody is not disturbed by the lung's limitations. Moments which bring the sonata close to the cool elusive mood of Goossens’ By the Tarn contrast with the impudent and pacy finale - as cheeky and happy as a Moeran scherzo

The Clarinet Sonata was written for Pauline Juler who played clarinet in the recording of Ferguson Octet (also on Dutton - their historic line). Terse and fantastic the writing recalls the Bax sonata with a touch of Medtner in the elaboration of the piano part and its grand flourishes. There are some lovely languid clarinet gestures along the way. The whimsical central movement speeds up and then slows down the fantasy. All three movements are predominantly quick although finally the piece ends in sleepy regret. Juler was also the player for whom Finzi wrote the Five Bagatelles.

The Horn Sonata with its rounded auburn tones and aureate chivalry is the most dramatic of the four.

All but the Horn Sonata have been recorded before as part of mixed anthologies. The present performances and recording quality leave nothing to be desired.

The disc is dedicated to John Lindsay (1926-2002) a lifetime champion of Bowen's music even if his focus was on the piano and chamber music to the exclusion of the concertos and symphonies.

Strongly recommended and self-recommending to the growing legion of music-lovers and musicians who have discovered Bowen occupying the territory marked out by Rachmaninov and Medtner.

Rob Barnett


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