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Piano Sonata No 1 in B minor, Op 6
privately published in 1902 and inscribed 'Dinham Blyth'; dedicated to Claude Gascoigne

'Bowen: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67751/2)
Bowen: Piano Sonatas
Movement 1: Allegro con fuoco
Movement 2: Larghetto
Movement 3: Tempo di Minuetto
Movement 4: Allegro con brio, con bravura

Piano Sonata No 1 in B minor, Op 6
The Piano Sonata No 1 in B minor Op 6 was privately published in 1902 (the edition is listed as ‘Dinham Blyth’), probably with the financial support of Bowen senior, who made a scholarship endowment to the RAM when his son graduated. The Sonata was inscribed to Claude Gascoigne, an Academy contemporary with whom Bowen played two-piano music. Since the unpublished Second Sonata is dated 1901 on its final page, possibly the gestation processes of these two works overlapped, though Bowen’s manuscript unequivocally presents the C sharp minor Sonata as No 2, opus 9.

After a performance of the B minor Sonata at St James’s Hall, The Standard diagnosed the influence of Grieg, a curious verdict until one compares the work specifically with the Norwegian composer’s early E minor Sonata. Both works launch without preamble into a purposeful theme, compact in rhythmic structure but wide-ranging in pitch. There the resemblance debatably ends and one becomes aware of Bowen’s pianistic debt to Chopin, whose own B minor Sonata seems acknowledged here in the rhythmic and textural characteristics of the outer movements. Given Bowen’s youth at the time, it is unsurprising to find a certain metrical regularity in his principal subjects, while in the conventionally structured opening movement a tendency to leaven expansive rhetoric with occasional quasi-balletic gestures gives rise to a central section with more divertissement than cumulative development about it. Nonetheless, this is an ambitious work, with a grand exposition repeated in full and a second subject already deploying one or two oblique modulations seemingly learnt from Strauss.

The second movement displays a certain artless simplicity, still detectable two decades later in the slow movement of the Fifth Sonata and reminiscent of short mood pictures by the American composer Edward MacDowell (1860–1908). An expansive central passage leads conventionally back to the mood of the opening, but the final stages are much abbreviated. The ensuing Tempo di Minuetto is slight and short-lived, combining attractive modality with a metrical regularity which respects the origins of such movements in actual dance, albeit at a faster speed. The finale mirrors the tonal design of the first movement, again featuring conventional sonata form and a songfully Chopin-like second subject in the relative major key. The printed appearance of this music strongly suggests immersion in the Chopin already cited, as does a pianistically muscular coda in the tonic major key.

from notes by Francis Pott © 2009

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Details for CDA67751/2 disc 1 track 1
Allegro con fuoco
Recording date
17 August 2008
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Bowen: Piano Sonatas (CDA67751/2)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: November 2009
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