Movement 1: Allegro assai
Movement 2: Andante cantabile
Movement 3: Allegro scherzando
An extended orchestral introduction opens the slow movement, after which the soloist sings plangently in the lower register accompanied bardically by the harp. This theme has a strong family resemblance to other similar tunes written for the viola by Bowen’s Academy contemporary Benjamin Dale, although perhaps showing a greater influence of Tertis, who was eager to demonstrate the sonorous effect and singing tone of his playing. At the end of this tune the clarinet plays a melodic phrase, and after the viola and orchestra have echoed each other faster music leads to the viola’s expressive middle-section theme before the opening theme returns in D flat, elaborated at even greater length.
Bowen’s third movement incorporates elements of scherzo and finale. The soloist’s scherzando opening theme is extended over eighteen bars before being passed to the clarinet and bassoon. The viola, with an upward glissando from a low G to a high harmonic, soon announces an extension of the first subject before a chromatic upward rush of solo double-stopping leads to a total change of mood as a broad and dignified tune on the strings is harmonized by the brass and taken up expressively by the viola. Bowen then combines the first and second subjects, and while the viola sings, the orchestra, especially the clarinets, play in scherzando fashion again. After a climax Bowen makes passing use of a whole-tone scale (Debussy was just becoming known to British audiences). The substantial cadenza is heralded by a reminiscence of the first movement’s coda. Doubtless the cadenza is more Tertis than Bowen. When the orchestra returns Bowen soon reminds us of the first subject of the first movement. We have come full circle, and the concerto ends brilliantly celebrating the viola as a virtuoso.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2005