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Piano Sonata No 3 in D minor, Op 12
August 1912

'Bowen: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67751/2)
Bowen: Piano Sonatas
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Movement 1: Allegro ma non troppo
Movement 2: Andante cantabile
Movement 3: Allegro molto con fuoco

Piano Sonata No 3 in D minor, Op 12
Although one could make a credible case for the first three sonatas as successive attempts to realize a single underlying intention, the Piano Sonata No 3 in D minor Op 12 (dated August 1912 in the manuscript) demonstrates a significant advance over its predecessors. Fondness for compound duple time is carried over from the finale of No 1 and first movement of No 2, but, although there is still no shortage of virtuosity, this music achieves greater expressive depth. A perceptible narrative quality now recalls another cornerstone of Chopin’s output in this time signature, his Ballades. The twenty-eight-year-old Bowen succeeds remarkably in sustaining a driving momentum across an imposing span of music while conjuring telling contrasts between the moods of its principal subjects (one restlessly impatient, the other placidly songful). The harmonic language soon suggests a shrewdly selective awareness of Debussy, evidenced by an elliptical shift into C major some twenty-two bars into the movement, at once subtle in conception and vivid in effect. The time signature’s regularity heightens a couple of telling rhythmic displacements in the hectic coda before another terse conclusion.

The second movement, a faintly enigmatic idyll in the key of F and a more extended statement than its counterparts in the earlier works, marks the true onset of a characteristic personal voice. Its opening articulation of the tonic triad leads into a songful ternary movement. A Poco mosso D major central section rises to an opulent but, this time, admirably restrained climactic passage. Here Bowen’s true purpose is to place quiet focus on the progressive withdrawal of the recapitulatory final section. Its later stages suggest a possible source of inspiration for Month’s Mind, one of John Ireland’s more autumnal and valedictory mood pictures for piano solo, written and published in 1935. Hints of the first movement’s harmonic character lend added unity to the unfolding work. The closing bars of this movement feature a striking momentary migration towards A major, opening an abrupt window onto a hitherto unsuspected interior landscape and then quietly closing it again, as in the last of Schubert’s Moments musicaux. By 1912 Bowen’s first three piano concertos and his Viola Concerto lay behind him. The decade since the earlier piano sonatas therefore represents a considerable advance in technical and poetic assurance. This does not wholly prevent the finale from falling a little below the achievement of the preceding movements (hardly a new problem in compositional history): its barnstorming pianism fails wholly to dissemble a certain monotony of harmonic pacing, and one senses that this is something the older Bowen was to manage better, because on a more concentrated scale, in the 24 Preludes (completed before the outbreak of the Second World War but published in 1950) which together constitute arguably his most celebrated work.

from notes by Francis Pott © 2009

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Details for CDA67751/2 disc 1 track 8
Allegro ma non troppo
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 8
    Release date: November 2009
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