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York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor Concertstück, Op.
17 (1905) [21.33]
Piano Concerto No. 3 in G minor Fantasia, Op. 23 (1907)
Symphonic Fantasia – a tone poem, Op. 16 (1905) [33:16]
BBC Concert Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. 20-21 February 2007, The Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford,
EPOCH CDLX7187 [74.56]
discs of Bowen’s music tumble onto the market in quick succession
and many of them – chamber and orchestral - are from Dutton
a firm that regularly punches above its weight. No doubt
we shall be hearing Bowen’s Rachmaninov-indebted Fourth Piano
Concerto from Dussek and Dutton before too long. Chandos
have already recorded the first two symphonies for issue
next year and the same company also offer two impressive
CDs of his piano music from Joop Celis. In the meantime here
are three substantial works to explore – two compact three
movement piano concertos and a big multipartite tone poem.
recording of the Piano Concerto No. 1 and the Violin
Concerto (CDLX7169) should not be forgotten.
Piano Concerto is grandiloquent from the outset and
the Colosseum provides an awesomely chasmal acoustic yet
not such as to cloud the detail. Bowen writes in a saturated
grand romantic style which echoes with references from
Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Rachmaninov. He was very much a
child of the Frederick Corder DNA strand at the RAM rather
than the more buttoned up Stanford/Parry RCM blood-line.
There’s a dreamy lento with a solo viola duetting
with the piano but Bowen cannot resist the heart-on-sleeve
Russian-style climax for long and so it comes at 2:20 before
the music winds down to the more intimate communion of
the movement’s opening. The lento is surprisingly
short – I suspect Bowen wanted to get back to the triumph
and the thunder. The finale is playful and flighty in the
manner of the Scriabin Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky 2 and
Rachmaninov 1. It’s deeply enjoyable.
Piano Concerto follows a similar schema and style although
this time I was reminded of the very fine Arensky Piano
Concerto. Certainly Mr Dussek is kept glitteringly busy
in a broadly and sometimes specifically (I 5:20) Tchaikovskian
idiom. There’s a rather lovely sentimental melody in the – once
again - short andante grazioso middle movement.
Bowen, true to form, cannot resist the magnetic pull of
a major climax in the middle of the movement. Once again
the Russophile in Bowen is on full view in the finale Allegro
con fuoco. However as with the finale of the Second
Concerto there is some byplay, this time in an almost pretty
Oriental style. At this point I was fleetingly reminded
of Cyril Scott’s First Piano Concerto of 1915. Some skipping
figures towards the end recall Bax however more often than
not it is clear that Bowen has his star hitched to the
Rachmaninov concertos. This is all very memorable and this
is music I shall be returning to.
are moments when the concertos tend towards the decorative
and fragrant rather like the Saint-Saëns works. The Symphonic
Fantasia is mellifluous darkly and swirlingly coloured
with some fine episodes for solo instruments (violin, oboe,
viola) along the way. It begin mystically and with some well
built tension in an echo of Mahler’s First Symphony. Other
composers are echoed or predicted including Miaskovsky (tr.
8 1:42), Richard Strauss and Elgar from In the South.
While there are many entrancing episodes the structure lacks
sense of coherence. However while you are engaged by the
delicately running violin figures running from channel to
channel (tr. 8), the harp figure recalling Sibelius 1 (tr.
8), the sweetly singing solo violin and solo oboe (tr. 10)
issues of structure seem hardly to matter. Other moments
recall Bantock’s wispy impressionism in the overture Pierrot
of the Minute. Performance and music meet in breathless
beauty in tr. 11 where over a harp pulse, the gleam of silky-silvery
violins fades from a dark rumble into a luminous chord before
the gleam returns only to be stilled by a gentle drum-stroke.
If one were trying to place this work one might compare it
with Tchaikovsky’s tone poems in which case it would be Hamlet rather
notes are by eminence brillante, Lewis Foreman who
is seeing his wishlist of rare but fine British music being
eroded at a rate of knots.
most enjoyable helping of Bowen’s late-romanticism which
does nothing to dampen the demand for more of the concertos.
Concerto and Concertante works
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E
flat major Op. 11 (1903)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in D
minor 'Concertstück' Op. 17 (1905)
Piano Concerto No. 3 'Fantasia'
Op. 23 (1907)
Viola Concerto in C minor
Op. 25 (1907)
Violin Concerto in E minor
Op. 33 (1913)
Rhapsody in D major for cello
and orchestra Op. 74 (1927)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in A
minor Op. 88
Arabeske for harp and small
Concerto for horn, strings
and timpani Op. 150 (1956)
Sinfonietta Concertante for
brass and orchestra (1957)
Jig for two pianos and orchestra
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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