The English music revival continues with this welcome release
of viola music by York Bowen from the Hyperion label that should
delight the ever growing ranks of lovers of neglected English
chamber music. I have also reviewed three other recent releases
of recommendable viola music from English-born composers that
have proved significant discoveries from: Sir Arnold Bax on Naxos
review), Rebecca Clarke on Naxos 8.557934 (see
review) and Benjamin Dale on Dutton Epoch CDLX7204 (see
large number of these scores were composed specifically for
the distinguished and influential British violist Lionel Tertis.
A further connection that Tertis shares with Bax, Clarke, Dale
and Bowen is that all five had studied at London’s Royal Academy
of Music. I note that Hyperion claim that four of the scores
on this disc are first recordings.
word ‘rehabilitated’ is one often applied to the fortunes of
London-born composer York Bowen. These works are frequently
out of print and are often receiving their first commercial
recording. Rather than being ‘rehabilitated’ I would rather
view recordings of Bowen’s music as being ‘restored’ to the
repertoire. His compositions, spanning two World Wars, are more
than mere curiosities to be wheeled out occasionally for historical
interest. Some of Bowen’s music will over time become established
as major scores in the repertoire.
fêted by the music establishment Bowen’s tonal and conservative
music with an elegant lyricism quickly became unfashionable
after the Great War. Much the same fate applied to the music
of his older contemporaries: Stanford, Parry, Elgar and Bantock.
Musical taste had rapidly changed. The English late-Romantics
of that generation became marginalised having to compete with
the growing enthusiasm for progressive European music from composers
such as: Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Berg. Bowen’s music quickly
became a casualty of the new fashion; he was still writing in
the manner of a bygone generation. Consequently his music swiftly
moved into virtual obscurity. After eighty to a hundred years
or so we should now be able to reassess Bowen’s music for its
innate qualities rather than for the dynamic of the era in which
it was written. My interest in Bowen’s music was sparked in
1996 by a revelatory, award-winning recording of his piano works
as performed by Stephen Hough on the Hyperion label.
eclectically blended music is unashamedly late-romantic in personality
and ambience. It is brooding and emotional with a frequently
haunting and sensual beauty, qualities which explain why Bowen
is sometimes referred to as the ‘English Rachmaninov’.
the first disc the opening work is the Viola Sonata No 1
in C minor. Bowen completed it in 1905. Cast in three movements
it was first performed by Tertis and Bowen at London’s Aeolian
Hall in 1905. Initially jaunty and agreeable the opening Allegro
moderato develops at its core more seriousness and a dramatic
quality. The yearning quality of the viola part at 6:12-6:49
and at 8:32-10:19 is a highlight of the score. In the central
Poco lento e cantabile one is in danger of being overwhelmed
by waves of Bowen’s passionate outpourings. Intensely reflective
and melancholy the Finale contains a central section
of a lighter buoyant character. The build-up to the conclusion
has a degree of severity ending with swift-footed revelry.
of an intense and passionate love affair the Romance was
originally composed in 1900 for violin and piano being arranged
by Bowen for the viola and piano in 1904.
was enthusiastic in promoting music for ensembles of violas
and he commissioned Bowen to write the Fantasia for 4 violas
(Viola Quartet), Op. 41/1. The single movement Viola
Quartet was composed in 1907 and premiered by Tertis and
his pupils the next year. I note that Tertis in 1911 also requested
Benjamin Dale to compose him a work for viola ensemble and the
result was the sumptuous single movement Introduction &
Andante for Six Violas (Viola Sextet), Op.5.
In the Viola Quartet Bowen takes the listener on an absorbing
and eventful journey that incorporates a tender and exhausting
ending. In spite of being hindered by its rather impractical
instrumentation this is a highly successful score that deserves
to hold more than mere novelty status.
wrote his three movement Piano Sonata in C sharp minor,
Op. 27, No 2 ‘Moonlight’ in 1801. Most likely a product
of his student or pre-war days Bowen made an arrangement of
the opening Adagio sostenuto movement with a viola obbligato.
Bowen’s manuscript score has not survived intact leaving only
fifty-seven bars. For this recording the last twenty or so bars
have been completed and edited by violist Lawrence Power. Here
Bowen works with a true masterpiece of the solo piano genre.
His adroitly prepared viola obbligato imparts a fascinating
and richly luxurious aspect to the score.
six months before the Armistice at the end of the Great War
in 1918 the substantial Phantasy in F major, Op. 54 was
premiered later that momentous year by Tertis at London’s Wigmore
Hall. The winner of the 1918 Cobbett prize, the Phantasy
is a bittersweet score. This is deeply introspective music
of a languid character that integrates spirited episodes and
concludes with a powerfully driving conclusion of high drama.
second disc commences with the three movement Viola Sonata
No 2 in F major that Bowen composed in 1906. That year,
not long after the first performance of the Viola Sonata
No 1, Bowen and Tertis gave the premiere of the score at
the Aeolian Hall in London. Initially light and pleasing with
an almost salon-like quality the opening movement marked Allegro
assai gradually develops a more serious and weighty tone.
The slow central movement is heavy and fatiguing containing
a pensive temperament. One cannot fail to be impressed with
the splendidly buoyant and high spirited Finale.
Romance from 1908 written originally for cello and piano
was later arranged by Bowen for viola and piano. Designed in
a single movement this attractive and expressively heartfelt
score inhabits a more melodic sound-world than his earlier Romance.
by Bowen in 1906 the single movement Allegro de concert was
again thought to be influenced by Tertis but there is no information
concerning any performances. The Allegro de concert displays
bold and biting energy but with a contemplative central core.
the last two years of the Great War the Melody, Op. 47
and his Melody, Op. 51, No.2 have clear associations
with Tertis. The Melody in G flat major was premiered
by Tertis and Bowen in 1917 at a wartime charity concert. The
event was to provide funds for books to be sent to the British
civilian prison camp at the commandeered Ruhleben racecourse
near Berlin where his friend Benjamin Dale was interned. Not
surprisingly Bowen conveys a grey and gloomy atmosphere redolent
of the horrors of warfare. The highly melodic Melody for
the C string in F major was completed in 1918. Here Bowen’s
assured writing enabled Tertis to display the rich and plaintive
qualities of the viola’s lowest string.
was in his early seventies when he composed in 1955 the substantial
Rhapsody in G minor written for its dedicatee the violist
Maurice Loban. Later that year Bowen and Loban went on to broadcast
the score. In the aggressively powerful opening the frenetic
activity is highly impressive and the central section has the
feel of a relaxing ballad. The rustic feel of the final episode
is lively and eventful, and the cyclical nature of the score
is apparent as the piece ends with similar material to the opening
of Bowen’s substantial output is now being recorded and a considerable
cluster of recordings have become available over the last decade
or so. Bowen has been especially well served recently by the
Dutton Epoch and Hyperion labels with several recordings currently
available in the catalogue:
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7115 the Endymion Ensemble perform the Quintet
in C minor for Horn and String Quartet, Op.85, Rhapsody
Trio (1926) and the Trio in Three Movements, Op.118
review). Members of the Endymion Ensemble perform the Cello
Sonata, Op.64, Suite for Violin & Piano, Op.28
and the Violin Sonata, Op.112 on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7120
review). James Boyd and Bengt Forsberg perform the Viola
Sonata No.1, Viola Sonata No.2 and the Phantasy
for Viola & Piano, Op.54 on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7126.
Endymion Ensemble members return on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7129 to
perform the Sonata for Flute & Piano, Op.120,
Sonata for Oboe & Piano, Op.85, Sonata for Clarinet
& Piano, Op.109 and Sonata for Horn &
Piano, Op.101 (see
review). From 2005 Dutton Epoch have released a fine recording
of the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 33 and the Piano
Concerto No. 1 in E flat, Op. 11 performed by Lorraine McAslan
and Michael Dussek with the BBC Concert Orchestra under Vernon
Handley on CDLX 7169 (see
review). The most recent offering from Dutton Epoch is the
Piano Concerto No.2 (Concertstück) in D minor,
Op.17; Piano Concerto No.3 (Fantasia) in G
minor, Op.23 and the Tone Poem: Symphonic Fantasia,
Op.16 performed by Michael Dussek (piano) and the BBC Concert
Orchestra under Vernon Handley on CDLX 7187 (see
Hyperion label in 1996 released a landmark disc of Bowen’s Piano
Works by Stephen Hough that won several prestigious awards
on CDA66838 (see review).
In addition there is a impressive recording of the Viola
Concerto in C minor, Op. 25 from the BBC Scottish Symphony
Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins with violist Lawrence Power
on Hyperion CDA67546 (c/w Cecil Forsyth Viola Concerto)
review). To be issued later in 2008 is a recording of Bowen’s
3rd and 4th Piano Concertos from pianist Danny Driver
with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins
on Hyperion CDA67659. It seems that Driver is recording a complete
survey of Bowen's Piano Sonatas for Hyperion.
significant Bowen releases include an attractive British Music
Society recording of the String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3 and
the Phantasy Quintet from the Archaeus Quartet on BMS426CD
In addition the Cello Sonata, Op.64 is also available
on a valuable British Music Society recording on BMS423CD (c/w
John Foulds’ Cello Sonata and Ernest Walker’s Cello
of the leading violists on the world stage today, Lawrence Power
goes from strength to strength with this collection. Power is
in constant demand as a soloist in the concert hall and also
as a chamber music performer with his membership of the Leopold
String Trio and the Nash Ensemble. Technically assured, Power
plays with a poised control yet is not afraid to display a deeply
romantic vein. The large rich timbre of his viola is aptly communicated
by this close and detailed recording made at Potton Hall. The
booklet essay from Lewis Foreman is exemplary and contributes
to the claims of this outstanding double from Hyperion. Undoubtedly
this valuable set will be one of my selections as a Record
of the Year for 2008.