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Bowen & Forsyth: Viola Concertos

Lawrence Power (viola), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins (conductor)
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Label: Hyperion
Recording details: November 2004
Caird Hall, Dundee, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: May 2005
Total duration: 62 minutes 6 seconds

Cover artwork: Evening Haymaking (1859) by John Linnell (1792-1882)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Images

Lawrence Power is fast emerging as the foremost viola player of a new generation, the lyrical drama and versatility of his performances winning invitations to perform as soloist with top orchestras worldwide and with such chamber groups as The Nash Ensemble and the Leopold String Trio.

This significant new recording presents two viola concertos whose relative obscurity belies their cultural significance and musical worth.

York Bowen was born in London in 1884 and quickly emerged from his whisky-distilling family background to be recognized as a star in the musical firmament of the day. Already a competent composer and experienced concert pianist in his teens, his cause was supported by Henry Wood and Hans Richter. The viola concerto was first performed by Lionel Tertis in 1908 at The Queen’s Hall and is a substantial work. Moments of extreme virtuosity for the soloist (Tertis would doubtless have insisted) are supported by a full orchestral texture throughout in a work of astonishing maturity for a composer so young.

Also born in London, though some two decades earlier, Cecil Forsyth had an equally impressive early career before a move to America and into the world of music publishing allowed his compositions to fall out of the repertory. The viola concerto was first performed at the 1903 Proms by Émile Férir and from its very opening is marked out by an extraordinary lyricism of singing lines in the solo part. Powerful melodies are constantly thrown between viola and orchestra, and the whole gives an impression of tireless good humour. Inexplicably, the existence of the work was totally ignored by Tertis who omits any reference to it from his catalogue of English viola concertos, this despite the fact that he is known to have played in the orchestra at the premiere. Though not as soloist …




‘This new performance [Bowen] is beyond criticism … the performance [Forsyth] is everything one could desire and the recording is wonderfully ripe and glowing to match. A fascinating coupling: hearty congratulations to all’ (Gramophone)

‘The real discovery of this disc for me was Lawrence Power: a player of strength and delicacy, precision and poetry, who makes a strongest possible case for both pieces. The recording balances him well against the BBC Scottish Orchestra, conducted by the astonishingly versatile Martyn Brabbins, who sounds as involved as Power throughout both concertos’ (BBC Music Magazine)

‘Lawrence Power shows that he is every inch the soloist, with excellent tonal control and perfect intonation from one end of his instrument to the other’ (American Record Guide)

‘Power blows clean out of the water any preconceptions of the viola being some kind of lumbering violin. His effortless technical dexterity and clean-focused sound throughout the range (his upper notes are simply glorious) are also straight out of the Primrose copy-book. Even in a world overflowing with string players who can seemingly play anything at the drop of a hat, Power has that extra charismatic dimension which has the listener hanging on to his every note’ (International Record Review)

‘Bowen likes to unfold long, flowing melodies, to which he imparts an almost Straussian buoyancy and glow. Lawrence Power relishes these and brings wit and flair to the solo line’ (The Strad)

‘York Bowen's concerto is quirky and gently eccentric, full of unlikely harmonic twists and creatively stretching demands on soloist and orchestra. But the ardent and lucid Power is the real star of the disc’ (Classic FM Magazine)

‘Lawrence Power is a consummate artist and clearly heir to the long and honoured tradition of Tertis, Primrose, and Trampler. He produces a full, robust, and confident tone that is seething with emotion and that finds an ideal home in these neglected works … Brabbins's leadership is strong; he succeeds in getting the orchestra to produce and exquisite sound characterized by subtle nuances and the most subtle gradations of colour imaginable. If that's not enough, the icing on this delectable cake is the wonderful acoustical setting offered by Caird Hall, Dundee’ (Fanfare, USA)

‘Lawrence Power is an exceptional player and makes the material sound wonderful. Congratulations all round to conductor, orchestra and engineers too’ (Manchester Evening News)

‘It really is a joy to listen to. You'll love the finale in particular, with its delicate use of percussion and feisty exchanges between solo and orchestra. Ideally warm, well-balanced sound completes a release of truly unusual distinction’ (Classics Today)

‘Once again Power and Martyn Brabbins make the strongest possible advocates, and this excellently produced release enjoys splendid sound to make the most of the musical rewards of the Bowen’ (Classical Source)

‘Hyperion is yet again to be praised for an exceptional recording of largely unknown repertoire … the liner notes by Lewis Foreman offer keen insight into the lives of both composers and their work … the performances are consistently strong and convincing. In short, this is an exceptionally fine recording of two important viola concertos from this end of the Romantic era’ (Nineteenth-Century Music Review)

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The emergence of Lionel Tertis as a champion of the viola in the earliest years of the twentieth century transformed its standing as a solo instrument. However, it was not quite the one-man job Tertis would have us believe, and there were distinguished viola players in London before him, including Émile Férir, who gave the premiere of the Cecil Forsyth Concerto. Tertis became professor of viola at the Royal Academy of Music, and it is certainly true that almost single-handedly he generated a new solo literature for his instrument by persuading a younger generation of RAM composers to write sonatas and concertos, among the first of which was that by York Bowen. Both the composers on this disc spent a period early in their careers as orchestral viola players in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra under (later Sir) Henry Wood, both leading the viola section.

Lewis Foreman © 2005

Apôtre de l’alto au tout début du XXe siècle, Lionel Tertis transforma le statut de soliste de cet instrument. Pourtant, contrairement à ce qu’il aurait voulu nous faire croire, cette métamorphose ne fut pas de son seul fait, et Londres connut d’éminents altistes avant lui, tel Émile Férir, qui créa le concerto de Cecil Forsyth. Force est cependant de reconnaître que, devenu professeur d’alto à la Royal Academy of Music (RAM), Tertis suscita, presque à lui seul, une nouvelle littérature solo pour son instrument, une génération plus jeune de compositeurs issus de la RAM ayant accepté d’écrire des sonates et des concertos – celui de York Bowen fut l’un des tout premiers. Les deux compositeurs du présent disque furent un temps, au début de leur carrière, premier alto au Queen’s Hall Orchestra, dirigé par le futur Sir Henry Wood.

Lewis Foreman © 2005
Français: Hypérion

Durch Lionel Tertis’ Förderung der Viola in den Anfangsjahren des 20. Jahrhunderts etablierte sich die Bratsche als Soloinstrument. Allerdings war das nicht ausschließlich der Verdienst eines einzelnen Mannes, wie uns das Tertis gerne glauben machen wollte. Schon vor ihm gab es hervorragende Bratschisten in London, einschließlich Émile Férir, der als Solist in der Uraufführung von Cecil Forsyth’ Konzert auftrat. Aber es stimmt schon, dass Tertis als Professor für Viola an der Royal Academy of Music (London) fast im Alleingang ein neues Solorepertoire für dieses Instrument anregte, indem er jüngere Komponisten an der RAM zum Schreiben von Sonaten und Konzerten überredete. Eines der ersten dieser Konzerte stammte von York Bowen. Beide auf dieser CD vorgestellten Komponisten spielten zu Beginn ihrer Karriere eine Zeit lang als Orchesterbratschisten im Queen’s Hall Orchestra (London) unter (dem später geadelten Sir) Henry Wood, beide als Stimmführer der Bratschen.

Lewis Foreman © 2005
Deutsch: Elke Hockings

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