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Viola Sonata No 2 in F major, Op 22
1906; performed by Lionel Tertis and York Bowen at the Royal Academy of Music on 3 Feburary 1906; published by Schott in 1911

'Bowen: The complete works for viola & piano' (CDA67651/2)
Bowen: The complete works for viola & piano
Movement 1: Allegro assai
Movement 2: Grave – Allegro – Tempo I – Tranquillo
Movement 3: Finale: Allegro giocoso

Viola Sonata No 2 in F major, Op 22
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.

from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2008

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