The music of this twenty-minute movement plays continuously, but falls into several sections. A clarinet opens proceedings with a lamenting theme punctuated by solemn chords. The scoring of this introduction is delightful, and soon coloured with horn tone. The piano takes up the theme and quickly introduces a falling dotted motif that reappears throughout and returns in triumph at the end. Cowen, no mean pianist himself, constantly leaves his soloist with little accompaniment. The music works up to a climax. Eventually, with a cadenza, the soloist takes us into a twelve-bar linking section, A tempo moderato, which Cowen scores with the light touch for which he was celebrated, the harp prominent and the violins reduced to just four players. The following Molto allegro leads to a contrasted piano idyll—Tempo tranquillo—all rounded by a cadenza and coda in which both themes appear.
Cowen now uses the triangle to colour a L’istesso tempo section (the time signature changes, to 2/4, but the apparent tempo does not). This is in G minor and again is introduced by the solo piano. The music proceeds in high spirits and with much piano display, the strings eventually finding a lyrical version of the falling motif.
The recapitulation starts with the piano repeating the 2/4 theme and there follows a succession of short sections, effectively contrasted variations, notably three delightful episodes in which both piano and orchestra are treated with the greatest delicacy. A gossamer piano cadenza muses on previous material, before the orchestra gradually increases the tempo and takes us to a closing headlong Presto—becoming Prestissimo—and the grand final statement of the theme, with piano chords sailing commandingly above. The final dash to the end contains brilliant passagework which goes on and on as if neither side is willing to give up.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2011