York Bowen is a composer whose time has come, it seems. His cause has been taken up in the last decade by Hyperion, Dutton, and Chandos in particular, and devotees of well-written, Romantic music are the better for it.
When this appeared on the Chandos new download releases for January (February for the CD), my main interest was the three piano trios. Spanning almost fifty years, they provide a summary of Bowen’s development - some might say lack of it - as a composer. He remained a romantic throughout the great changes in music occurring around him.
The unfinished early Trio movement
is both a juvenile work in its stylistic borrowings from the masters - and salon music for that matter - but also remarkably accomplished for a teenager, if the estimated date of composition is correct.
The two mature trios have been recorded before by the Endymion Ensemble on Dutton (see review
) along with the horn quintet, described as a masterpiece by Michael Cookson. I haven’t heard this CD, so can’t compare performances. I suspect they are equally excellent, given the track record of both groups. The single movement Rhapsody trio
is darkly lyrical and much more intense and passionate than its title might imply. It is my pick of the three. The later three movement Piano Trio
is much more virtuosic in its demands on the players, especially the tarantella finale. In doing so, some of the lyricism of the earlier work is exchanged for drama and excitement. I imagine the performers got a real kick out of playing it.
I don’t tend to listen to much chamber music with wind instruments, but I have to acknowledge how enjoyable the two clarinet works presented here are. The Sonata
is unusual in that it has no slow movement. The opening allegro is in the best traditions of the English pastoral school, and I don’t use that term pejoratively, as some have. The scherzando that follows is sparkling and almost jazzy, while the finale contains the most dramatic moments.
The entry of the bass clarinet in the Quintet
over hushed strings is quite magical - it may not be Rhapsody in Blue
, but in its quiet, understated and genteel way, it makes a similar impression. The work is in a single movement, with wide ranging tempos and moods; much to my surprise, I came to the conclusion that this is the best work presented here. The Phantasy title immediately conjures up the Cobbett competitions, but this was not an entry in any of them.
I knew of Robert Plane from his recording of the glorious Finzi clarinet concerto on Naxos, and he plays beautifully in the two works here. The Gould Trio are a deserved well-respected ensemble who have recorded with a number of labels, and everything I have heard has been excellent.
All in all, this is an excellent collection of Bowen’s chamber works; the two clarinet works really surprised me and makes me keen to hear more.
Some thoughts on York Bowen
by John Lindsay