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Edwin York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Viola Sonata No. 1 in C minor [30.05]
Phantasy for Viola and Piano [14.12]
Viola Sonata no. 2 in F major [27.01]
Matthew Jones (viola), Michael Hampton (piano)
rec. Wyastone Concert Hall, 28-29 March 2011
NAXOS 8.572580 [71.18]

The Bridge Duo (violist, Matthew Jones and pianist, Michael Hampton) present York Bowen's glorious first and second Viola Sonatas and the Phantasy on this Naxos disc.

I have to confess at once that I was rather disappointed with the performances given, as well as with the recording itself. Taking the latter point first, we immediately find percussive sounds coming from the viola, due to microphones being placed too close; while the performances themselves fail to convince me that the performers are entirely committed to the music and to conveying it fully, in all its wonderful nuances, to the listener. For example, a trill should be "the exaltation of a note" - as Pablo Casals said - there must be a reason for the articulations, dynamics and direction of a phrase - the performer needs to look behind the note. Matthew Jones' playing doesn't make me believe that he has gone beyond the note on the page in this way. He gives no sense of architecture, and his tone-quality leaves something to be desired - there is often excessive bow-pressure for the soundprint, resulting in extraneous noises as the wood of the stick makes contact with the hair. We also need more narrative - a change of character brought about by the way in which the violist plays, yet this is lacking. For example, Jones employs exactly the same vibrato for the second movement of the First Sonata as for the first movement. My other criticism is that there is too little sense of radiance or exuberance - the performances are all very earthbound. Listen, for instance, to the rather disappointing ending of the first movement of the First Sonata - there is simply not enough effervescence here.

The performances do pick up a little, however, and the third movement of the F major Sonata (the Second) is much better; far more playful. As a result it actually comes across as fun and enjoyable. I'm afraid that I also felt that the works were rather let down by Jones's accompanist, Michael Hampton, who thumps at the piano too much and also seems to fail to relish and communicate the astonishing beauty of these works.

Anyone and everyone should hear these pieces, but I would propose instead the performances given on the Dutton Vocalion disc by James Boyd and Bengt Forsberg.

Em Marshall-Luck

Previous review: Nick Barnard

Bowen review index