recordings of the Bowen Concerto
As a collection
of early twentieth century British music
for viola and orchestra this disc is
pretty much unbeatable. The earliest
piece is the Bowen, the latest the Walton,
here heard in its usual 1962 revised
We are not getting
the whole eight movement RVW suite,
just group 1 of the three groups of
movements that make up the complete
sequence. You would not know this from
the CD cover. It is regrettable that
this is not mentioned although it is
clear enough on the reverse of the case.
a warmly bathed performance of the three
pieces in Group 1 adopting an almost
Delian leisurely pace. The ever winding
Prelude is one of the work's
most memorable movements. The following
Carol which shows the same predilection
for radiant oozing heat is low key stuff.
The guttural Christmas Dance is
classic troubadour-style RVW. One can
see it fitting very neatly into Sir
John in Love or The Tudor Portraits.
From the pealing
outpouring of anguish and love at the
apex of Howells' Elegy to the
echoing cathedral casements of Vaughan Williams’
Tallis Fantasia is not a great
distance. There are other resonances
in the Howells: notably pre-echoes of
Barber's Adagio and any of the
string orchestra pieces by Gerald Finzi.
The Elegy is a concisely grieving
lament on the death of fellow RCM student
Francis Purcell Warren, known as ‘Bunny’.
was killed in action in 1917. The work
was premiered at the RAH on 17
as a memorial concert for those killed
in the battle of Mons.
Note the layout for viola solo, string
quartet and string orchestra; apart
from the single viola this is the same
specification as for the Tallis Fantasia.
I liked Callus's and Taddei's understated
way with the lament after the grand
statement at 7:49.
For all that
it was written ten years earlier the
first movement of the Walton Viola Concerto
draws on the sweetly keening Mediterranean pulse of the Violin Concerto.
While there is not quite the whip and
snap from Callus and Taddei that we
hear in some other performances this
is nicely rounded playing - very much
of a piece with the flanking movements.
The finale is enhanced by some flatteringly
attentive pawky humour from soloists
and wind principals as well as some
really touching and tender intimate
playing at 1:50.
The Bowen arrives
timely in the same month as the Dutton
series vol. 1 (violin concerto and piano
concerto no. 1) covering all the Bowen
concertos. It has the advantage of Helen
Callus's own sentimental cadenza rather
than the one that appears in the score.
This performance asserts the score as
a boisterous work with achieved aspirations
to vie with the big violin concertos.
That said it also leans on the swooningly
rhapsodic with a touch of gauche chinoiserie
in the finale.
The Bowen was
written for Tertis as was the RVW and
the Walton although the latter was initially
rejected by Tertis.
have the Bowen Viola Concerto in a third
recording (to join the Hyperion, Laurence
Power and the Centuuar, Helen Lederer).
How much more attractive still would
have been the addition of the Gordon
Jacob first viola concerto and the concerto
by Stanley Bate.
There isn't any for this coupling. The
Bowen concerto is grittily and vibrantly
recorded on Centaur and I still favour
that version but the coupling on the
Hyperion is erudite and enjoyable -
the Forsyth viola concerto.
As for the Elegy
it is not at all commonplace. There
is a competing recording on Chandos
conducted by Hickox alongside other
Howells items. There's also a Lyrita
LP from circa 1978 with other Howells
and Butterworth. If I had free choice
I would go for the Lyrita but signs
are that it will never appear on CD
so it's not exactly a practical proposition.
There's more character in this Callus
version than in the version on Chandos
so the preference here goes to ASV.
Both Riddle on Chandos and another and
excellent version on Crystal are to be preferred in the
RVW Suite which in both of those other
cases is given complete; not that there
was space for the whole suite here.
There's plenty of competition for the
Walton. I rather like Bashmet's unruly
version for RCA-BMG but the Callus version
here is very good indeed.
It is good to
hear Kent-born Ms Callus. I hope she
will continue her practical interest
and advocacy in British viola music.
Let's not forget her ASV CD of
the viola and piano music of Rebecca
Clarke, Pamela Harrison and Freda Swain
(CD DCA 1130). Now if only she
would take an interest in the Arthur
Benjamin Viola Concerto (also called
Elegy, Waltz and Toccata) which
would make the perfect coupling
with Benjamin's Violin Concerto and
the Romantic Fantasy for viola,
violin and orchestra.
This is an admirable
anthology of British viola concertos
and joins a line of ASV CDs that
have valuably and enjoyably widened
our experience of British composers'
approaches to the viola concerto form.