York BOWEN (1884-1961)
CD 1 (originally CDLX 7120) [75.14]
Violin Sonata (1945) [19.46]
Cello Sonata (1921) [14.22]
Suite for Violin and Piano (1909) [28.25]
CD 2 (originally CDLX 7126) [71.59]
Viola Sonata No. 2 in F major (1906) [27.43]
Viola Sonata No. 1 in C minor (1905) [28.55]
Phantasy for Viola and Piano (1918) [15.21]
Krysia Osostowicz (violin); Jane Salmon (cello); Michael Dussek (piano); James Boyd (viola); Bengt Forsberg (piano)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 16-18 Nov 2001 (CD 1); All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, 29 April - 1 May 2002 (CD 2). DDD
DUTTON EPOCH LXBOX 2011 [75.14 + 72:59]

Rely on Dutton not only to keep pushing out the boundaries but also to engage artists who are not merely sympathetic but who bring intense commitment to the task. Not for one moment can one doubt the advocacy of these artists who have revived with new wine these old yet resilient bottles. Both discs were issued individually in the early 2000s.

Take the Kreisler-dedicated Suite. You might have expected a salon delicacy - in fact there is some of this in the dancing Humoresque - part Dvorák; part Saint-Saëns - but this is predominantly a romantically aspirant piece. Bowen writes some truly appealing music occupying the green pastures hemmed in on one side by Tchaikovsky and on the other by Delius. The Suite ends with a scorchingly virtuosic Allegro con spirito in which the piano and the violin are well and truly put through their sparkling Tchaikovskian paces. Much the same can be said of the romantic viola works – all predating the suite – and here most stylishly advocated by James Boyd and Swedish pianist Bengt Forsberg. There is competition from Hyperion and Lawrence Power for the viola works but there they are very differently coupled and part of a complete Bowen viola works project. There is no direct comparison.

Next comes the Cello Sonata - a work dedicated to Beatrice Harrison – much associated with the Delius concertos - who gave the premiere at the Wigmore Hall, with the composer. The world had moved on from the suite and the language was now rather more sophisticated but still heatedly passionate. The hothouse atmosphere does not go as far as Cyril Scott but there is a new humid luxuriance in the air; Debussy meets Rachmaninov. Also present is a darker element - one might almost call it malign. The mood is restive and there is an aggression and attack amid the romance. Several times I thought of Arnold Bax's cello sonatas and the solo Rhapsodic Ballad - well recorded by Raphael Wallfisch on Chandos (CHAN8499) but even better in the hands of Rohan de Saram on a long gone Pearl LP (SHE547). If the Great War drove a deep revetment between the carefree luxury of the Edwardian era and a new and callous modernity, the Second World War drove the stakes in yet deeper. Jo Cole and John Talbot have also recorded the Cello Sonata with equal fervour and this is coupled even more generously with the cello sonatas by John Foulds and Ernest Walker. The Cole/Talbot disc is available as BMS-423-CD.

The 1945 Violin Sonata was premiered on BBC Radio by the composer with Frederick Grinke. In the 1950s Grinke broadcast it again this time accompanied by Joseph Weingarten - a tape survives. Still the language is romantic, turbulent and tonal. The misty Lento sings irresistibly - a sort of amalgam between Delius and Korngold with a touch of expressionism to spice things along. The brilliant Tchaikovskian finale is Mephistophelian, as flashy as Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen yet as grim as Bax in his Winter Waters and Second Northern Ballad.

Bowen clearly had no truck with neo-classicism and the English pastoral was anathema.

Dutton Epoch has done more than any other label to peel back the layers of neglect and ignorance that have for so long cloaked British music of the last century.

The present set will reinforce the well merited interest in this out and out romantic.

Rob Barnett

An out and out romantic. The English Korngold with insurgent elements from Tchaikovsky and Delius.