Although comparisons of Bowen with Rachmaninov may mislead, both were composers whose fundamental ‘language’ altered little, instead modifying itself simply by becoming more tersely and acerbically concentrated; as one sees with Bowen by placing side by side the respective first sections or movements of the Violin Sonata in E minor Op 112 (written in 1945 and published the following year) and the earlier Phantasie
. The E minor Sonata admirably matches expansiveness of manner to economies of form and duration. After a dramatic introduction and first subject, a concise but open-ended secondary idea leads into central development. A chromatically discursive harmonic style does not generally lend itself to development founded upon the undermining of a sonata exposition’s opposing main keys, which may have become well buried already. Accordingly, Bowen ensures cohesion by keeping development brief and the recurrent rhythms of his contrasted main ideas plainly in view. A compressed reprise leads to the briefest of codas and a peremptory conclusion.
The calculated effect is of slamming on the brakes almost too soon, leaving unexpended momentum which then casts its shadow across the opulent yet subdued slow movement. The finale, one of Bowen’s most successful, seems to hint at the opening theme of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 in a secondary subject demanding barbaric intensity on the violin’s G string, but more generally the music evokes a kind of reinvented Mephisto Waltz, where high spirits and something fleetingly more macabre intermingle as they whirl by. A spectacular coda gains from Bowen’s expertise on both instruments. The slower, declamatory piano rhythms of the work’s opening reappear, cross-cutting the violin’s semiquavers so that, again, brakes seem to be applied—then released for a turbo-charged rush to the finish.
from notes by Francis Pott © 2013