Ballade No 2, Op 87

composer
c1931

 
The second Ballade was published by the Anglo-French house in 1931. It would be surprising if the mere title did not remind one of Chopin, whose imaginative response to its narrative connotations remains unique. In the event Bowen seems intent upon evoking specifically the rhythmic momentum with which the second of Chopin’s four Ballades opens. Harmonically Bowen’s richly opulent inspiration may recall variously Delius, Ireland, or the Delius-inflected accents of Moeran in his solo piano idyll Summer Valley. A notable fondness for non-cadential dominant ninth formations reveals also the composer’s awareness of Debussy, this being confirmed by subsequent filigree writing arising from the whole tone scale. An early climax proves to have been merely the shape of things to come. A prolonged central passage of considerable force encompasses figurations recognizably and deliberately arising from stormier moments in Chopin’s second and third Ballades, these being persuasively recreated on Bowen’s own terms. After a temporary lull this material regenerates itself in music of formidable momentum and pianistic virtuosity, subsiding only as the work’s opening theme reappears beneath gradually dwindling right hand arpeggiation. A full (though varied) recapitulation of the first section brings this imposing work to an enigmatic end not unlike that with which Bowen was later to crown the last of his Twenty-four Preludes.

from notes by Francis Pott 1996

Recordings

Bowen: Piano Music
CDA66838

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