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York BOWEN (1884-1961)
The Piano Sonatas
CD 1
Piano Sonata No. 1 in B minor, Op. 6 (1902) [25:30]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 9 (1900s) [23:05]
Piano Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 12 (1912) [20:10]
CD 2
Short Sonata in C sharp minor, Op. 35 No. 1 (1922) [13:22]
Piano Sonata No. 5 in F minor, Op. 72 (1923) [21:51]
Piano Sonata No. 6 in B flat minor, Op. 160 (1961) [14:40]
Danny Driver (piano)
rec. August 2008, Henry Wood Hall, London
HYPERION CDA67751/2 [68:47 + 49:55]
Experience Classicsonline

York Bowen's romantic era music has been undergoing a welcome resurgence of interest over the last decade or so. Major concertos and orchestral works have appeared on disc from ClassicO, Lyrita, Dutton (Violin Concerto; Piano Concertos 2 & 3) and Hyperion. At one time when Bax and Moeran were being recorded afresh and even re-recorded it seemed that revival was turning a blind and uncaring eye. Chandos have produced three masterly collections of the solo piano music from Joop Celis (CHAN10277; CHAN10410; CHAN10506) to join many chamber music collections on Dutton Epoch, Hyperion and the BMS label. Hyperion were in the early with the Bowen revival and their justly celebrated Hough collection (Hyperion CDA66838) might be said to have brought about the renaissance. Bowen's own fragile 1959 mono LP of the some of the solo piano music has also been reissued on Lyrita but its interest is primarily historical fascinating as it is. We should not forget Marie-Catherine Girod’s superb survey of the 24 Preludes on the long deleted label Opes-3D - well worth tracking down if you can. The York Bowen website is worth a visit and you may also want to get hold of a copy of Monica Watson's "York Bowen - A Centenary Tribute" (Thames Publishing, 1984).

These six piano sonatas span the whole of his creative life from 1902 to the late 1950s. The First Sonata is shot through with romantic spirit. There's a strenuous and adeptly expressed first movement recalling Saint-Saens’ Second Piano Concerto followed by a Macdowell-sweet Larghetto. The jauntily pastoral Tempo di menuetto is matched up with a finale that represents a return to the initial and sometimes pearlescently lit, tempestuous initial Allegro con fuoco. The Second Sonata is a work of fleetly expressed emotions throwing out streamers of display towards Macdowell, Chopin - especially in the rather touching Andante sostenuto - and Mendelssohn. The outer movements are emphatic and determined statements prone to poetic asides yet with the muscular rhythmic resolve of Saint-Saens. The Third Sonata is from 1912 when the composer was still only 28. The perfect repose of the Andante cantabile is remarkable and memorable although we are by now used to Bowen's predilection for crafting rising climactic statements out of even the most restful beginnings. As with all these performances one does not have to read between the lines to sense how deeply Danny Driver has absorbed this music which communicates with real fluency and complete engagement whether in rhetoric or in poetry. The outer movements have fire and floridly gritty romantic determination too.

Moving to the second CD we encounter three sonatas written after the Great War. Even so, Bowen maintains steady-state fidelity to the romantic ideal. There's no movement towards jazz, neo-classicism or popular culture. The three movements of the Short Sonata which stands in the stead of a lost Fourth Sonata recall Cyril Scott and the folklorist composers such as Howells and Moeran. The slow-pulsed Lento espressivo is also idyllic-pastoral but the lineage back to the Macdowell echoes of the first three sonatas is also present. This is music of glowing confidence. It’s deeply, deeply attractive. The playful Presto scherzando for me points back towards the wonderful Scriabin Piano Concerto. The Fifth Sonata of 1921 is again in three movements but is some five minutes longer than the Short Sonata. There is a strong fragrance of the volatile and flammable qualities of Rachmaninov's opp. 23 and 32 Preludes. Francis Pott, in his notes, also points us towards echoes of the Lyapunov Transcendental Etudes and of Bernard Stevens' Sonata of 1954. The Sixth Sonata moves closer towards Medtner on the one hand and in the magical central movement towards Debussy. The swirling rush of prestidigitation that is the final Toccata provides a heady mélange of grandeur and panache.

Driver is already well and truly au fait with the Bowen manner having recorded the Third and Fourth Piano Concertos for Hyperion on CDA67659. Surely he will soon be commissioned to start recording the six piano concertos of Richard Sacheverell Coke - reputedly a Rachmaninov indebtee - before too long.

The set is compactly presented in a single width case with a booklet essay by composer Francis Pott whose music merits more recorded attention than it receives.

Rob Barnett








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