Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDA67651/2 - Bowen: The complete works for viola & piano
Sunrise by the Red Trees by Romy Ragan
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: November 2007
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: July 2008
Total duration: 121 minutes 13 seconds




'Bowen's music … is full of surprises and of a harmonic language and idiom peculiarly his own … both CDs are beautifully planned … and the performances could hardly be more glowing. Bowen's writing for both instruments is more than demanding yet nothing detracts from Lawrence Power's and Simon Crawford-Phillips's enviable fluency and achievement. Once again Hyperion hits the jackpot in a much-needed revival and the sound and balance are exemplary' (Gramophone)

'Following his successful recording of Bowen's Concerto, Lawrence Power turns to this repertoire with similar technical ease, and persuasively idiomatic tempo inflections and portamenti' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The music of the hugely prolific York Bowen is enjoying something of a renaissance … his long association with England's great champion of the viola, Lionel Tertis, produced some signficant sonatas, romances and rhapsodies which see the light of day again in this recording. Lawrence Power's gorgeous dark red tone is perfect for this repertoire' (The Observer)

'What a delicious recording … the two sonatas are fully persuasive from their first notes, each blessed with a sixth sense for Bowen's overarching structure. Power pulls new colours from his instrument with irrepressible bravura, while never losing a kindliness for the more intimate moments that … are as stylistically imperative as the grander apotheoses that call to mind Rachmaninov, Chopin or Debussy … the writing is quite masterful in its alchemy of structure and emotion and the performances are exquisitely balanced, refined and mindful of the elegiac character that broadly underpins the work … with music-making of this calibre, who can predict the summit of York Bowen's renewed celebrity? Bravo!' (International Record Review)

'All the pieces show Bowen's love of the instrument's capacity to unfold long-limbed, rhapsodic melodies … Lawrence Power's richly expressive moulding of them is a rare treat in itself' (The Guardian)

'The two viola sonatas of 1905 and 1906 are clearly inspired by the romantic style of Brahms's late sonatas for clarinet and viola. They are worthy successors, at least when played with the sumptuous tone, passionate convinction and supreme technical address that Power lavishes on them here. Even finer are the two single-movement pieces … Crawford-Phillips relishes the bravura of Bowen's writing for the piano in this superbly executed set, unlikely to be equalled very soon' (The Sunday Times)

'Power, the first British winner of the William Primrose International Viola Competition, now returns to this cherishable area of the repertoire with equally stunning results. Accompanied by Crawford-Phillips, Lawrence's fabulous combination of tonal seductiveness and technical wizardry works wonders in the bold expressive outlines of the two sonatas. Yet it is the heart-warming, stand-alone pieces (many recorded here for the first time) … that make this release truly indispensable. Another Hyperion winner' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Violist Lawrence Power and pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips touch the nerve centers of this music and convey its subtle flavors and fragrances. The recording is up to Hyperion’s high standard' (Fanfare, USA)

'The viola … has no better exponent than Lawrence Power … we must be very grateful that his music is now in wide circulation again … a real discovery' (Liverpool Daily Post)

'Lawrence Power, surely one of the finest viola players of today, and Simon Crawford-Phillips play magnificently and as one in this excellent survey of Bowen’s works for viola and piano. Hyperion’s recording, made at Potton Hall, is outstanding, and the set is recommended without reservation' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'Composers whose rich romanticism was out of favour among 20th-century pundits who favoured angular austerity are finally receiving their due. Bowen believed the viola sounded more attractive than the violin and has a persuasive advocate in Power' (Classical Music)

The complete works for viola & piano
Allegro moderato  [10'22]
Adagio sostenuto  [5'40]
Allegro assai  [10'34]

‘Power is a latter-day Orpheus, an expression of music’s power to disarm, encourage, soothe and serenade’ (Financial Times).

This recent appraisal of Lawrence Power affirms his status as one of the foremost violists of today, the heir to the long and honoured tradition of Lionel Tertis and William Primrose. His unwavering musical eloquence and brilliant technical ability have consistently drawn the highest praise for all his recordings and performances. His renditions of viola concertos by Walton, Rubbra, Cecil Forsyth and York Bowen have been acclaimed as benchmark recordings. He now presents a fascinating double-album of York Bowen’s viola music: a selection that fully demonstrates the great artistry of the composer known as the ‘English Rachmaninov’.

Bowen first came under the spell of the viola player Lionel Tertis when a student at the Royal Academy of Music. He responded to Tertis’s unprecedented virtuosity and large tone with two sonatas, a concerto and many shorter pieces. He continued to write works for Tertis throughout his life, all of which are recorded here, and they display the sort of extraordinary technical challenges which prove what an amazing virtuoso he was.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
It has been widely accepted that the composition students of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Sir Hubert Parry at the Royal College of Music became the mainstream of much of the early-twentieth-century revival of British music which was to be led by Vaughan Williams, Holst and their contemporaries. However, during the first decade of the twentieth century a remarkable group of talented composers also emerged at the competing institution, the Royal Academy of Music, and quickly made enviable reputations. Unfortunately, though highly regarded at the time, most of these composers later faded in the public’s affections and only in the last decade or so have they begun to be accepted again, and be found in their own terms also to be remarkable composers. Additionally, they were all brilliant pianists, though only York Bowen made a reputation as a concert pianist.

York Bowen was an exact student contemporary of Arnold Bax, Benjamin Dale and Montague Phillips at the Royal Academy of Music. They all came from similarly well-off families in North London. Bowen was born on 22 February 1884, the son of the joint proprietor of Bowen & McKechnie, then a celebrated firm of whisky distillers. He developed notable musical abilities when very young, and appeared as soloist in a Dussek piano concerto when only eight years old. He began his musical education at local music colleges which then were dotted round London. At first he was at the North Metropolitan College of Music, where the Principal was the father of his friend Benjamin Dale. Later Bowen attended the Blackheath Conservatoire. At the age of fourteen he was awarded the Erard Scholarship which took him to the Royal Academy of Music.

Bowen was still in his teens when Henry Wood presented his tone poem The Lament of Tasso at a Queen’s Hall Promenade Concert in 1903. His early Concert Overture was programmed by Dan Godfrey at Bournemouth and he appeared as soloist in his own Piano Concerto No 1. His Symphony No 1 in G major was also heard at Queen’s Hall. At the Royal Academy he won a succession of prizes: the Heathcote Long, Sterndale Bennett and Walter Macfarren for piano and the Hine, Charles Lucas and Dove for composition. A sure sign that he had arrived came in 1906 when the prestigious Philharmonic Society invited him to play his Piano Concerto No 2 at Queen’s Hall in May, soon followed by a Symphonic Fantasia which was conducted by one of the leading conductors of the day, Hans Richter. Soon appeared the Viola Concerto (recorded by Lawrence Power on Hyperion CDA67546) and the Piano Concerto No 3 (recorded on Hyperion CDA67659). When his Symphony No 2 was introduced at Queen’s Hall by Sir Landon Ronald in February 1912 Bowen was still only twenty-eight.

Bowen was a composition pupil of Frederick Corder. Looking back at contemporary accounts one has the impression that at the beginning of the twentieth century, although Corder was personally unresponsive to modern trends, his composition classes were inspired by the new. ‘The student finds the idiom of the past irksome and repellent’, Corder wrote; ‘it is the vernacular he desires to learn.’

Significant among the professors at the Royal Academy of Music at that time was the viola player Lionel Tertis (1876–1975), who single-handedly ran an immensely successful campaign to make the viola an acceptable solo instrument in its own right and to provide it with a repertoire. With his unprecedented virtuosity and large tone he particularly influenced the composers at the RAM in the early years of the twentieth century, including McEwen, Bax, Dale and York Bowen. Bowen, a viola player as well as a pianist, responded with two sonatas, a concerto and many shorter pieces. Bowen became Tertis’s accompanist, and Tertis toured this repertoire abroad; much later, in 1933, while in Italy, he played both Bowen sonatas accompanied by the celebrated Italian composer-pianist Alfredo Casella.

Bowen’s instrumental music was even more prolific than his early orchestral works, though centred on the composer’s own instrument, the piano (for which he wrote six sonatas, the first in 1900 and the last in 1961). While some of the piano music is teaching material aimed at amateurs and children, much of it is extremely demanding. Bowen also composed much chamber music—piano trios, string quartets, quintets for horn and bass clarinet, and a now-lost Septet. His instrumental music is notable for many sonatas, not only for all the strings but also for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and recorder. Bowen made a notable contribution to the viola literature, most of which—the Fantasia in F major for viola and organ, and Poem for viola, harp and organ are excluded—is represented here.

After the First World War Bowen increasingly found himself unsympathetic to the modern music of the day—although he remained a champion of Debussy and Ravel—and he made what we might feel, in retrospect, unwise sallies against Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No 4. Bowen’s gorgeous Violin Concerto, written before the First World War but first heard afterwards, enjoyed only a few performances in the 1920s, and later the large-scale Piano Concerto No 4 (Hyperion CDA67659), which first appeared in 1936, was heard only two or three times and, along with most of the other extended British concertos of the time, long went unperformed. Indeed Bowen’s reputation as one of the leading British composers of the day had faded in the face of the rise of modernism after the war, and it has only been successfully revisited in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

The two viola sonatas are further examples of the remarkable succession of works that Bowen produced while still a student, and soon afterwards. In fact he was only twenty when he wrote the Viola Sonata No 1 in C minor Op 18 (1905). At this time Lionel Tertis had started a series of London recitals of viola music at which he was regularly accompanied by Bowen, a series that continued for several years. The sonata was first performed by Tertis and Bowen at London’s Aeolian Hall on 19 May 1905. It appeared again on 30 October 1906, and then in Berlin in 1907 when Tertis, Bowen and the work were all enthusiastically received.

This is the first of Bowen’s many instrumental sonatas, and with its traditional exposition repeat it sets the pattern of the ‘well-made’ work which he would follow all his life. To this renewal of an existing idiom Bowen brings a personal voice and authority, especially noticeable in a viola sonata. While some listeners at the time might have looked to Brahms’s then new sonatas for the composer’s model, in 1905 Bowen’s music must have struck many people as a fresh breeze blowing through the British music of the time.

The wide-spanning first movement, lasting more than ten minutes, clearly announces a composer who has arrived. With the busy and idiomatic piano part and the viola part’s singing melody, drama, and distinctive passagework (which was at first thought to be uncharacteristic of the instrument), in this sonata Bowen provided a model for Tertis’s other young collaborators—Benjamin Dale and Arnold Bax. Bowen’s first subject opens with a questioning dotted motif which, at first reflective and questioning, soon becomes dramatic and challenging, especially when running on with flashing semiquavers. The second subject, marked molto espressivo, is lyrical and expansive. The music eventually rises to a substantial climax before the affecting final nine bars, where the opening theme returns, all passion spent, and the music ends on a dying fall.

The slow movement is basically ternary in shape, with a middle section in which the viola sings fervently over rippling piano figurations. The movement is notable for its passionate expression markings—molto espressivo at the outset, and soon appassionato—yet this is a remarkably well-bred passion and the music maintains a poise which rather tempers the emotion the composer seems to be feeling.

The finale is generally carefree, and certainly Tertis referred to the sonata as ‘a vivacious and light-hearted work’. Bowen writes a powerful introduction, though this is soon followed by happy music alternating spirited and dancing passages with typical lyrical invention. Eventually the music reaches a portentous episode when, over pounding sustained chords in the piano, the viola is instructed to summon up all possible tone molto vibrato. Just when we are thinking the music is to end in tragedy after all, the viola’s running semi-quavers announce the throw-away closing bars.

The word ‘Romance’ had a special significance for the composers of Tertis’s group, with the tone having been set by Benjamin Dale in the slow movement of his 1906 Suite for viola Op 2, which Tertis often played as an encore. But in fact it was York Bowen who first used the term—in his Romance in D flat major—to mean a fanciful, romantic extended movement in broadly ternary form. This Romance was originally written for violin and piano in 1900, and was heard thus at an early Academy concert of students’ composition at the Bechstein (later Wigmore) Hall. Doubtless it was Tertis who influenced the young Bowen to adapt the solo part for the viola, which he did in 1904; they performed it that year, the first time Bowen accompanied Tertis in public. In this early student work Bowen immediately found his voice, and his ability constantly to elaborate and evolve a singing line, propelled by a highly wrought and fully realized piano accompaniment, is evident in the extended gentle musing of the opening, the brief passionate middle-section, and lyrical close with its quiet fade-out.

In promoting the viola, Tertis gave lecture recitals in which he featured his pupils. In addition to commissioning solo works he also favoured ensembles of violas, his most celebrated commission in this respect being the viola sextet Introduction and Andante, Op 5, by Bowen’s friend Benjamin Dale which dates from 1911. By then Tertis had already asked Bowen to write a viola quartet movement, and the Fantasia for four violas Op 41 No 1 was composed in 1907 and first performed by Tertis and his pupils on 3 March 1908 at a musical evening promoted by the Society of British Composers. Perhaps of most significance to us now is the fact that the second viola part in both the Dale and Bowen pieces in those early performances was played by Eric Coates, later, of course, celebrated as a composer of light music. They played the Bowen again at the RAM on 25 May 1908.

Bowen wrote several works called ‘Phantasy’ or ‘Fantasie’, taking his cue from the Phantasy competitions of William Walter Cobbett which started in 1905, and for which Bowen wrote his Phantasy Trio for violin, viola and piano. In the Fantasia for four violas we find a typical arch-structure which subsumes the elements of three or four movements into one. This is remarkable for the range of textures and expressive power that Bowen obtains from his quartet, from the wistful opening to the driving energy of the fast music. But the overall character is elegiac, the mood underlined by the extended half-lit closing section.

It was a characteristic of Frederick Corder to encourage his pupils to write their own parts to duet with established classics. Thus Corder brought out a set of piano pieces that, on two pianos, could be accompanied by Czerny’s School of Velocity. York Bowen wrote a second piano part to accompany Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor. In similar vein he produced this viola obbligato for the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, though it is not possible to determine its date. It seems likely it was a student or pre-First World War piece. Only 57 bars of Bowen’s manuscript survive, and the last twenty-odd have been completed by Lawrence Power, following the example set by Bowen in the earlier part of the movement.

Bowen’s virtuosic and romantic Phantasy in F major Op 54, is dated 31 May 1918. Tertis gave the premiere of this single-movement work soon after the armistice, at Wigmore Hall on 6 December, but Bowen was ill and the piano was played by Samuel Liddle. Later it was taken up by the French viola player Paul-Louis Neuberth, whose performance at Wigmore Hall in London at the end of October 1924 was erroneously announced as the premiere. Like almost all Bowen’s viola music it was written for Lionel Tertis, and it again shows what a amazing virtuoso he must have been in his prime. Bowen’s well-constructed music can easily bed down into a bland, somewhat Brahmsian contentment, and it needed Tertis’s fire to bring it to life. Even so, this music is more technically difficult than its approachable surface sometimes suggests, and particularly when Bowen was in thrall to Tertis he was uninhibited by limitations of technique.

The F major Phantasy was a Cobbett prize-winner in the year of its composition, 1918. Once again Bowen’s typical arch-structure creates an extended single movement, with the Poco adagio slow section presenting the composer’s big tune before the Allegro vivo of his vigorous finale, making a work that is comparable in scale to Bowen’s sonatas in his viola output.

Lionel Tertis and York Bowen capitalized on their early success, and during 1906 they had continued presenting their series at the Aeolian Hall. It was at another of these concerts, on 26 February, that they played Bowen’s Viola Sonata No 2 in F major Op 22, which must have been written very soon after the first viola sonata. In fact Tertis and the composer had already presented the new sonata at the RAM three weeks before, on 3 February. By now Bowen had the advantage of having been involved in public performance of the major works of the viola repertoire, accompanying one of the leading virtuosi of his day, and so he had first-hand experience of both the music of his contemporaries and what were then the standard works. In particular they performed the two sonatas that Brahms had written for clarinet or viola (Op 120). Tertis and Bowen played Bowen’s new sonata again on 27 May 1907, but it was not published until 1911 (like the first, by Schott), with the viola part edited and fingered by Tertis.

In the first movement Bowen again marks an exposition repeat. With its lilting 3/4 theme here Bowen is half-way to writing salon music, which he also did in his Suite for violin and piano written soon after. This first subject reappears little changed throughout the movement. Bowen’s big-boned piano writing is more than an accompaniment, propelling the music to create the passionate romantic episodes and signalling the various changes of mood, before the opening theme returns for the quiet end.

The slow movement is in striking contrast to the light-hearted good spirits of the outer movements. The pensive opening of this passionate and tragic movement is marked con molto espressione, and the low opening phrase was clearly intended to exploit Tertis’s powerful C string, but is then extended in a mood of quiet resignation, building higher and higher before returning to a low C sharp. A rippling piano accompaniment signals the middle section and provides the background for the muted viola to sing high above the stave in the treble clef, but the mute is soon removed as the soloist builds the agitated middle section. Soon the spectral mood of the opening returns and grows again to a passionate climax, before the remarkable Tranquillo closing section in which the soloist sings in a haunted tone.

The third movement could not be more of a contrast. One can imagine that Tertis has asked for a piece to show off his abilities, and this movement has the character of a succession of virtuoso salon pieces, with touched-in high notes in the manner of a violin encore, high running passagework, harmonics, pizzicato, quadrupal stopping, all contrasted with singing legato interludes.

Following his earlier Romance in D flat, Bowen composed the Romance in A major in 1908, this time originally for cello and piano, although he soon arranged it for viola. (He also went on to write two Romances for solo piano in 1913.) This work rises from the depths, spinning an expressive line, and as it moves up the instrument’s register it gains in tempo and emotion before sinking back. It goes through this procedure again, the second time more quickly, before the expressive viola frames the reflective coda high on the instrument.

Also originally composed for cello and piano, the substantial Allegro de concert is dated February 1906. Again, doubtless influenced by Tertis, Bowen agreed that it should also be played on the viola, and this is the way it is most often heard. With its bold piano accompaniment, its headlong opening Allegro con fuoco, and brief wistful central interlude with its hint of an elegiac tune that never fully evolves, it would have allowed Tertis every opportunity to demonstrate his virtuosity and unique tone. Yet even in York Bowen’s press cuttings there seems to be no report of a performance in Bowen’s lifetime.

The extended single-movement Melody for the G string Op 47, in G flat major, was first performed by Tertis and Bowen at a wartime charity concert on 7 July 1917 to support the fund to send books to allied prisoners of war. This had a special resonance for Bowen, for the prisoners would have included his friend Benjamin Dale, who was in the civilian camp at Ruhleben near Berlin. This work was published, together with the later Melody for the C string, in 1923. Tertis used the word ‘melody’, rather as his contemporary Ralph Vaughan Williams did ‘tunes’, to mean a piece or composition rather than an actual tune. The music is notable for the shadowed mood, and both this and its successor have an elegiac quality than cannot have been lost on their first audiences just after the war.

The Melody for the C string Op 51 No 2, was composed the following year, in 1918, and designed for Tertis to demonstrate the plangent tone of the lowest string on the instrument, which takes it down to the C in the middle of the stave in the bass clef. The mood is even more autumnal than the Melody for the G string, and Bowen’s ability to elaborate a singing line is heard to perfection as the music rises in intensity as it ascends the string.

During the 1940s and ’50s Bowen produced a succession of sonatas for virtually all the regular instruments of the symphony orchestra, and in 1955 he produced the extended Rhapsody in G minor for the viola player Maurice Loban, to whom it is dedicated. Loban was accompanied by the composer when they broadcast it later that year. The work is in one continuous movement but in three clear sections, and with ideas from the opening returning at the end it achieves a satisfying cyclic cohesion.

Lewis Foreman © 2008

   English   Français   Deutsch