MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing



CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS
Download: Classicsonline

York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Piano Works - Volume 4
Partita, Op. 156 (1960) [9:34]
Suite Mignonne, Op. 39 (1915) [8:36]
Third Suite, Op. 38 (1915) [16:30]
Three Sketches, Op. 43 (1916) [10:03]
Sonatina, Op. 144 (1954) [10:17]
Three Novelettes, Op. 124 (1949) [11:19]
Polonaise in F sharp major, Op. 26 No. 2 (1906/07) [10:03]
A Whim, Op. 19 No. 2 (c.1910) [2:27]
Joop Celis (piano)
rec. Willem Hijstek Zaal, Maastricht Conservatory, The Netherlands, 18-20 July 2009. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10593 [79:35]

Experience Classicsonline
Review of an earlier volume in the series: Vol. 3.

When Chandos first began this series of York Bowen’s piano music back in 2005 I was both delighted and a little concerned. Until the last ten years there has been scant interest shown in Bowen’s music. The reasons for this are many, but probably devolve down to the critical anti-romantic mood of the nineteen fifties and sixties. Coupled to this, is the perceived wisdom that Bowen’s musical style did not develop - regarded as a fault - and that he was simply an English pastiche Rachmaninov led to this once ubiquitous composer being ignored. For many years he was recalled simply as a teacher and more pertinently as a piano examiner with the Associated Board – who was believed to have composed a few piano pieces.

The reality is far more complex. For one thing the catalogue of piano pieces alone runs to many pages of text. In some ways it is probably too large, and has led to a situation where no-one really knows the entire run of works. Secondly although there is a definite strand of naked romanticism in Bowen’s music, this is not the whole story – for example listen to the Partita – a late work which nods to an earlier school of keyboard writing - on this present disc.

But back to my concern. I was really worried that this series of piano works by Bowen would become stalled – I guess that we all have seen examples of where a cycle has been promised and where after a couple of issues it seems to be abandoned. However, this is volume four of the present series and although it has come out at roughly one CD a year, it has done so consistently. I know that there is plenty more music by Bowen to ‘have a go at’ - I just hope that this series continues, for I doubt that any other pianist or CD company would attempt a rival ‘complete’ version!

This present disc divides conveniently into two parts – those early works from the first three decades of the twentieth-century and those written after the Second World War. They are not in chronologically sequence on this disc: I imagine they are presented in the order given to make a satisfactory programme. However, I would counsel against through-listening.

The best place to start is the delightful Suite Mignonne Op. 39. This is usually regarded as the ‘fourth’ suite. It was written in 1915 and is really a piece of ‘light’ music. The Suite opens with a ‘Prelude’ that is actually very moving and beautiful. The middle movement ‘Valse’ is just about in the gift of an amateur and nods fairly and squarely to the world of Haydn Wood with its elegant and graceful mood. The final ‘Toccata’ is a miniature masterpiece – it is a ‘moto perpetuo’ and as such barely pauses for breath. It would be easy to scorn a work such as this for being superficial or light-weight, yet what Bowen has created here is a suite that is listenable, well laid out for the piano and quite simply gorgeous.

I would then suggest hearing the Three Sketches Op.43 which was composed the year after the Suite Mignonne. These are not given poetic titles: there is no obvious attempt to word-paint in music. Yet, as the liner-notes point out, this is a set of three idyllic pieces that fully exploit the pastoral mood that was popular at that time, although there is no use of folk-song. Reflective in mood, they nod more to Fauré than to Rachmaninov, John Ireland or Arnold Bax.

I have not heard A Whim before listening to this disk – although I have perused the music: it is certainly way beyond my Grade 6½! This was the second piece in Bowen’s Op.19 the other first being a ‘Nocturne’ and the last a ‘Humoresque’. It is a light, will o’ the wisp piece that surely enchants every listener who believes in fairies! It was composed in 1910.

The earliest piece on this CD is the long Polonaise which dates from about 1906, when the composer was about 22 years old. It is fairly safe to assume that any piece that carries this title must be written with some sense of debt to Chopin, or at least to the Polish nation. This is a concert Polonaise and does not presume to use any traditional dance tunes. But as the liner-notes point out, it is a fine achievement: a large piece derived from a single stylised dance form. To be fair, there is little here that could not have written by a dozen competent composers: there is nothing that says ‘English’ music. That being said, it is an excellent piece – if it had been by Chopin it would have been heard a dozen times a week on the radio and in recital rooms.

The last of the early pieces is the Third Suite Op.38 which was written about 1914 and was dedicated to Sir Frederick Corder. From the first few bars it is clear that this is an important and striking piece. On a first hearing the listener may wonder why this powerful work is called a ‘suite’ and not a ‘sonata’. The distinction is made by Robert Matthew-Walker in the sleeve-notes, and it is worth quoting. He writes that for Bowen ‘the difference was clearly delineated. This is exemplified most in the emotional tenor of those works: his sonatas (Bowen wrote six) are invariably more serious, at times overall more fugacious, compositions, whereas his whimsical and natural lightness of expression comes to the fore in his suites.’

Certainly in the present suite this thesis only seems to apply to a degree. The opening movement, although I guess not in strict sonata form, is big, gutsy and well structured. However the succeeding ‘Intermezzo’ and ‘Scherzo’ are certainly in a ‘lighter’ less profound mould. There are a fair number of passages here that could be described as ‘cocktail bar’ music. And that is certainly not meant as a criticism - it is a part of the delight of Bowen’s music. This is even more apparent in the fourth movement, the ‘Valse-reverie’. This is quite definitely music to fall in love with – in both senses. The final ‘Toccata’ is a war-horse; not something for anything but nimble fingers. It brings the Suite to an impressive conclusion.

The second tranche of pieces to explore belongs to the 15 years after the Second World War. The Three Novelettes are a pleasure to listen to. They were composed circa 1949 and dedicated to Marion Keyte-Perry who would appear to have been a dog-breeder! A Novelette is technically a short story or piece of fiction. Alas, there is no suggestion as to what the ‘literary’ text or plot is behind these pieces. The first and third are largely reflective in tone and explore a fundamentally romantic realm that is perhaps ‘retro’ for the date composed. The liner-notes point out that the second piece is ‘the sturdiest music here’. It is a ‘serious utterance’ - powerful and dramatic - that seems to inhabit the northern world of Sibelius. It could be regarded as being a little out of place with the two mood-pictures.

The Sonatina is another of those works that belie the title. Aspiring pianists are brought up on the Sonatinas of Clementi, Kuhlau and Diabelli. However this owes more to the more technically demanding examples of that title by Maurice Ravel and John Ireland – without having their emotional depth or ‘profundity of expression’. This work was written in 1954. Matthew-Walker has noted that it requires a ‘finished and comprehensive technique’ to play. I love this work: I think it is the untroubled out of doors mood of the entire piece that appeals to me. It is not pastoral in any way, yet it surely suggests holidays by the sea or walks in the countryside. The middle movement is a little more reflective, but even here there is nothing to trouble the spirit. It is truly lovely music. The last movement is exciting, difficult and thoroughly enjoyable. It has a fine big tune that emerges from the predominant pianistic figurations and makes a great finish to this ‘short sonata’.

The late Partita (1960) is possibly the most important work on this CD. The title suggests experimentation with baroque forms and styles of keyboard figuration. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Although Bowen has used the formal names typical of a ‘suite’ – prelude, gavotte, sarabande, minuet and gigue transmuted into a late-romantic style – this is most certainly not pastiche or retro. However there are occasional nods to the earlier age all done in a subtle manner. A perfect balance is struck. I have written elsewhere that from the first note to the last, this is a happy and fortuitous composition. Since first hearing this work many years ago, I have always noted the suggestion of the ‘salon’ about the ‘minuet’ and the ‘gigue’. Yet any suggestion that this is simply ephemera is rejected by the sheer artistry of the music and the competence required in playing it.

There is almost no need for me to write that this is a fantastic CD. I have long been enthusiastic about virtually everything that I have heard from the pen of York Bowen. This CD will be a must for all enthusiasts of British piano music that has a late-romantic flavour to it. The playing by Joop Celis is, as with the other three volumes in this series, superb. York Bowen and his champion certainly deserve each other!

John France

The complete Bowen-Celis-Chandos series:-

York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Works for Piano, Volume 1
Piano Sonata No. 6 in B flat minor, Op. 160 [15:09] (premiere recording)
24 Preludes in all major and minor keys, Op. 102 [47:58] (1 Moderato appassionato [1:05]; 2 Andante tranquillo [2:15]; 3 Andante grazioso [1:54]; 4 Allegro con fuoco [1:16]; 5 Allegro risoluto [1:35]; 6 Andante con moto [2:55]; 7 Andante amabile [1:54]; 8 Poco lento, serioso [2:22]; 9 Allegro risoluto e ritmico [1:44]; 10 Moderato, a capriccio [1:34]; 11 Andante con moto e grazioso [2:42]; 12 Allegro con fuoco [1:41]; 13 Andante tranquillo [2:16]; 14 Allegretto scherzando [1:21]; 15 Allegretto grazioso [1:44]; 16 Moderato semplice [2:16]; 17 Andante molto espressivo [1:55]; 18 Allegro con fuoco [2:11]; 19 Andantino con moto [1:58]; 20 Allegro con fuoco [1:23]; 21 Andante piacevole [2:34]; 22 Allegro molto e con fuoco [1:22]; 23 Andante con moto [1:47]; 24 Moderato serioso e tragico [4:10])
Rêverie in B major, Op. 86 [5:15]
Joop Celis (piano)
rec. Willem Hijstek Zaal, Maastricht Conservatory, The Netherlands, 19-21 April 2003
CHANDOS CHAN 10277 [68:49]

York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Works for Piano, Volume 2
Piano Sonata No. 5 in F minor, Op. 78 [22:18]
Nocturne in A flat major, Op. 78 [5:04]
premiere recording
Ripples (A Short Sketch) in F major, Op. 100 No. 1 [2:26]
premiere recording
Two Preludes 7:27 (I Andante sostenuto in G minor [3:48]; II Op. 100 No. 2 'Shadows' in D major [3:36]
premiere recording
Fantasia in G minor, Op. 132 [10:43]
premiere recording
Two Intermezzi, Op. 141 3:47 (I Andantino tranquillo in B minor [2:38]; II Allegro con fuoco in G minor [1:05])
premiere recording
Siciliano and Toccatina, Op. 128 [5:14]
premiere recording
Four Bagatelles, Op. 147 [7:23] (I Andante con moto in A minor [1:30]; II Moderato sostenuto in B minor [2:19]; III Allegretto grazioso in F major [1:34]; IV Andantino grazioso in E major [1:51])
premiere recording
Evening Calm in B flat major [8:18]
Joop Celis (piano)
rec.Willem Hijstek Zaal, Maastricht Conservatory, The Netherlands, 14-16 July 2006
CHANDOS CHAN 10410 [73:43]

York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Works for Piano, Volume 3
Ballade No. 2 op. 87 [10:16]
Three Songs Without Words op. 94 [11:13]
From Three Preludes Op. 81 [5:47]
Short Sonata Op 35 no. 1 [14:19]
Three Miniatures op 44 [6:55]
Three Serious Dances op. 51 [7:23]
Toccata op 155 [4:22]
Three Pieces op 20 [18:13]
Joop Celis (piano)
rec.Willem Hijstek Zaal, Maastricht Conservatory, The Netherlands, 21-24 March 2008
CHANDOS CHAN 10506 [79:20]

York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Works for Piano, Volume 4
Partita op. 156 [9:34]
Suite Mignonne op. 39 [8:36]
Third Suite op. 38 [16:30]
Three Sketches op. 43 [10:03]
Sonatina op. 144 [10:17]
Three Novelettes op. 124 [11:19]
Polonaise op. 26 No. 2 [10:03]
A Whim op. 19 No. 2 [2:27]
Joop Celis (piano)
rec.Willem Hijstek Zaal, Maastricht Conservatory, The Netherlands, 18-20 July 2009
CHANDOS CHAN 10506 [79:35]



Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.