The Preludes, bearing the dedication ‘To Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, 1950’, adopt the ascending key scheme used twice over by Bach in Das Wohltemperirte Clavier
. Nonetheless Bowen’s line of descent is from Chopin’s Preludes and Études
, comparable cycles under the latter title by Henselt, and, most directly, the Preludes and Études-Tableaux
of Rachmaninov (who esteemed Henselt’s and Chopin’s Études
almost equally). Rachmaninov is the most detectable and recurrent model: Bowen’s opening Prelude may enjoy a perceptibly different harmonic vocabulary but its rhythmic and pianistic resources spring clearly from the piece in the same key which opens Rachmaninov’s Thirteen Preludes, Op 32. Coincidence of key and of a particular blend of pianistic and emotional resonance is yet more obvious in the case of Bowen’s Prelude in E flat major and its counterpart, Rachmaninov’s Op 23 No 6. Significantly, perhaps, the E flat Prelude is one of Bowen’s happiest inspirations. Elsewhere, as in the C minor and G minor pieces, there is an intermittent modality much more in line with certain piano miniatures by Moeran, Ireland or Baines. These movements exhibit a welcome restraint and economy, thereby lending balance to a highly eclectic and atavistic but still imposing overall conception. The overt moments of virtuosity noticeably call forth a heightened terseness and astringency, typified in the present selection by the piece in B flat minor and by the startling ferocity of the technically demanding octave study in G sharp minor which provides a fitting conclusion to the group.
from notes by Francis Pott © 1996