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Hyperion Records

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Black piano (2004) by Lincoln Seligman (b1950)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67751/2
Recording details: August 2008
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: November 2009
Total duration: 22 minutes 59 seconds

'No better example of Hyperion's founding principles could be imagined than this disc of three premiere recordings contributing to the first survey of the complete sonatas by an unjustly neglected composer … Danny Driver is the ideal advocate for this glorious music, playing with razor-sharp articulation and a rich, organ-like sonority … Driver is an artist who is able to transcend the sterile surrounds of the studio and give 'real' performances, an early Award nominee for next year' (Gramophone)

‘Danny Driver plays the canon of six sonatas with a blend of warmth, bravura, expressive sensibility and verve … Driver’s superb, astute performances are convincing testimonies to Bowen assimilating stimuli with a potent imagination of his own’ (The Daily Telegraph)

'Scintillating demands amply accomplished by Driver, whose light filigree passagework is sensationally clear … the Fifth is a veritable tour de force, Bowen at his best … Francis Pott's programme notes are ideal … Driver's virtuosity and technical finesse is remarkable' (International Record Review)

'This fine sonata survey from Danny Driver, whom readers may recall from his oustanding Hyperion coupling of York Bowen's Third and Fourth Piano Concertos … all are demanding, rewarding scores that Driver despatches with captivating virtuosity' (Classic FM Magazine)

'With performances such as these a successful future for Danny Driver seems assured. This young soloist plays with sympathy and dedication, buoyancy and freshness. This is a splendid set from Hyperion that should broaden York Bowen’s appeal still further. Francis Pott has as usual done a fine job with the booklet essay. Beautifully recorded by the Hyperion engineers at the Henry Wood Hall with warmth and considerable clarity' (MusicWeb International)

'All this music here is played quite wonderfully by Danny Driver—with bravura, sensitivity and insightful commitment, a labour of love; with tangible and vivid recorded sound and informative documentation, this release can be heartily recommended' (ClassicalSource.com)

Piano Sonata No 2 in C sharp minor, Op 9
composer
1901; unpublished

Allegro  [9'58]
Allegro molto  [7'29]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In the Piano Sonata No 2 in C sharp minor Op 9 Bowen seems to begin where the First Sonata left off. Nevertheless, Mendelssohn is soon evoked by a persistent melodic tag reminiscent of his Hebrides Overture. In more general terms, the metrical regularity of Mendelssohn informs the young Bowen’s phrase structures. However, the pianism is again indebted primarily to Chopin. More sophisticated and expansive than in the First Sonata, it allows scherzando elements to contribute to the general Sturm und Drang, rather than to dilute them with hints of balletic woodwind. Chopin’s presence becomes more explicit midway through the central development section (which highlights both principal subjects in their original order), when a passage from his Second Scherzo threatens to sweep Bowen from his own path. However, this is still music of considerable assurance and dramatic flair, remarkable for so young a composer. Bowen allows the development section to subside, avoiding the expected climactic focal point at the onset of the recapitulation and instead keeping his powder dry for the concluding stretto. The recapitulation presents the second subject in the tonic major, enharmonically transliterated to D flat major and thus suggesting such works as Chopin’s Berceuse or the Nocturne Op 27 No 2, as visual and tactile models in the same time signature. The music escalates rapidly towards a tumultuous conclusion.

The ternary second movement recalls some of Chopin’s more songful nocturnes or impromptus, though its cadential patterns again suggest MacDowell. A central Poco agitato leads to a gentle restatement of the main theme at the top of the left hand, accompanied by undulating chordal triplet figuration in the right. A slightly contrived and overblown climax intervenes before the halcyon ending. Ironically, perhaps, the distinguished British pianist Hamish Milne recalls Bowen as having later made no secret of an antipathy towards Liszt, and yet a weakness for ‘obligatory’ climaxes within otherwise soberly restrained statements is a peculiarly Lisztian trait.

The finale hints at the same sources of inspiration, but this time it is the corresponding movement from the little-known First Sonata of Chopin (Op 4) that comes to mind. A chordal first subject leads to a canonically conceived contrasting theme. The strength of Classicism’s hold is evident in Bowen’s choice of a repeated exposition even in this context. The eventual recapitulation leads unexpectedly to an Allegro con fuoco return of the opening movement, still resolutely in the minor mode and concluding with a terse concentration at odds with certain other passages of the work.

from notes by Francis Pott © 2009

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