The Bowen violin concerto has no pretensions to compactness. Its
aspirations are of the most exalted. Its span and its manner and
content all announce a vigorous and epic grip.
Completed in 1913 it represents one of
Bowen's creative high water marks. Late-romantic music was to
take a pounding after the gritty murderous reality of the Great
War. Rather like his fellow Royal Academy of Music contemporary
Joseph Holbrooke Bowen's violin concerto was taken up by violinists
who were English figures rather than international celebrities.
Bowen had to wait seven years until 1920 for a premiere. This
was given by Marjorie Hayward at the Proms. There was another
performance in Bournemouth three
years later but after that the concerto slipped out into the
Hearing it now in a performance as ardent
as that given here we can wonder at such a profligate waste.
The concerto spills over with gloriously succulent tunes. This
might easily be by Korngold but the fleeting parallels with
other works are there too: the Elgar, the Tchaikovsky, the Bruch
No. 1 - even the Coleridge Taylor concerto and especially the
Glazunov Violin Concerto. This is, by the way, no tentative
performance but a no-holds-barred total immersion. The impression
is enhanced by the glorious hollering of the BBC Concert Orchestra
horns - notably assertive at the start and end of the first
movement. In the slow central movement at 3:11, amid the stream of lyricism pouring liquid gold from
the violin, there is a fluttering dreamy pause - a sort of romantic
that is extraordinary and quite moving.
The flighty finale dances along with Mendelssohnian
singing élan. What you must not expect is that the music will
sound particularly English pastoral. It has no linkage at all
with that idiom. Rather like Haydn Wood's Violin Concerto -also
awaiting its first commercial recording - the language is thoroughgoingly
romantic, owing more to central Europe than to
the emerging impressionism of field and byre.
The 26 minute First Piano Concerto was
a display vehicle for its teenage composer who premiered it
at the RAM on 18 December
1903 with A.C. Mackenzie
conducting. Its style is Tchaikovskian just like Haydn Wood's
Piano Concerto (recorded by Hyperion). This concerto had more
of a concert history than the violin concerto simply because
it was very much of its time; when the violin concerto appeared
fashion had turned against such lavish extravagance of melody
and sentiment. The central scherzo of the Piano Concerto has
a Mendelssohnian faery lightness but there are other linkages
too including with Saint-Saëns' Second Piano Concerto and with
the equally superb Arensky piano concerto. The concerto ends
with a galloping trepak.
Lewis Foreman's notes provide essential
context and do so entertainingly while whetting our appetites
for the other concertos - especially the much later Fourth Piano
Concerto (a Rachmaninovian work) and the Cello Concerto.
This has to be among the Recordings of
Now Dutton - do press ahead and give us
the other Bowen concertos and please do not forget the Joseph
Holbrooke concertos of which the Violin Concerto (known as The
Grasshopper), the Cello Concerto The Cambrian and
the Third Piano Concerto (also known as the Dance Symphony,
Terpsichore and Symphony No. 8) are 'likely lads'.
Bowen's music is enjoying a renaissance
at present with several Dutton and Centaur discs of the chamber
music and incredibly no fewer than three versions of the Viola
by Michael Cookson