Movement 1: Mouvement de sonate: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Barcarolle: Andantino
Movement 3: Humoresque: Allegro scherzando
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro con spirito
The opening Mouvement de sonate features an expansive introduction and a principal first subject some twenty bars in. As in the later E minor Sonata, Bowen blurs the ending of his second subject, moving fluidly into a development section which is both tonally nomadic and more extended than its counterpart. The wisdom of this is revealed when Bowen reverses his principal subjects in the recapitulation, since there is little or no redundant material from earlier on to present any obstacle. The movement is reminiscent of the monumental D minor Piano Sonata by Bowen’s close friend Benjamin Dale, with many similarities in both rhythmic character (not least the rising fourth at the opening) and pianistic detail. There are also several shared nods towards Strauss. Dale’s prodigious work, dedicated to Bowen, would have been fresh in mind, since Bowen himself had performed it in November 1905.
The Barcarolle’s introductory link between D minor and A flat major may be a conscious allusion to the similar device opening the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 (though that was added later, Rachmaninov having actually started his concerto in the middle and gone on to tackle the first movement last). The Barcarolle is extended but restrained, its few moments of overt display concerning the piano more than the violin.
The playful theme of the Humoresque slips typically upwards by sleight of hand from E to F major and back down again. Easy continuity combines with expertly variegated texture, the more robust moments hinting at extension of first movement material. Bowen routinely excelled in this type of scherzo substitute, with its light, deft interplay and trademark quicksilver ending, vanishing here like the bursting of a bubble into thin air.
The Finale hints at Dale’s, which it visually resembles. Its themes are designed to sound like rhythmic transformations of their first-movement counterparts, although literal cross-reference is confined to a few salient notes. Bowen shows seasoned awareness that symphonic recapitulation may sometimes be an art merely of successful illusion. The major-key second subject, first heard in F, ultimately recurs in D, transforming the sovereign tonic minor and enabling the work to end in a rush of optimism. This typically satisfying peroration rests upon a real sense of virtuoso partnership on equal terms. The work’s obscurity until recent years is greatly regrettable. It makes for easier listening than Dale’s admittedly fine Piano Sonata, never courting the same danger of collapse under the sheer weight of its own complexity.
from notes by Francis Pott © 2013