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1901; unpublished

'Bowen: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67751/2)
Bowen: Piano Sonatas
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Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante sostenuto
Movement 3: Allegro molto

Piano Sonata No 2 in C sharp minor, Op 9
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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