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York Bowen

Chloë Hanslip / Danny Driver

The complete works for violin & piano

€ 34.95
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  • Type CD
  • Label Hyperion
  • UPC 0034571179919
  • Catalog number CDA 67991
  • Release date 01 May 2013

About the album

This double album is a valuable resource for admirers of a composer whom Hyperion has done so much to champion through recordings. This body of work includes juvenilia, miniatures (written with an eye to academic performance during Bowen’s years as a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, but all impressive enough in quality to be concert works), his two Violin Sonatas, a Suite and a number of single-movement works. 

Edwin Yorke Bowen was born on 22 February 1884 at Crouch Hill, London, the third son of the founder of Bowen & McKechnie, whisky distillers. In 1898 Bowen won the Erard Scholarship of the Royal Academy of Music, with which he was to remain associated for the rest of his life and where he became a piano student of Tobias Matthay. At this point he dropped his baptismal name and the ‘e’ of ‘Yorke’, though certain of his reissued or newly published scores present him as ‘E. York Bowen’.
York Bowen was also an accomplished violist and horn player, in the latter capacity joining the regimental band of the Scots Guards at the start of the Great War. Invalided home with pneumonia in 1916, he became one of many for whom the harsh realities of the time brought artistic disappointment. Having married in 1912, Bowen spent his remaining years in faithful service to the Royal Academy of Music as a professor of piano. He died suddenly in November 1961. His compositional idiom had remained largely unchanged since his first successes. In this respect he invites comparison with his exiled Russian counterpart Nikolai Medtner, who spent his later years in North London and whose G minor Sonata, Op 22, featured in Bowen’s repertoire, but whom Bowen appears never to have met.

While Medtner railed often against a hated but persistent ‘Russian Brahms’ sobriquet, in due course Bowen picked up an equally inaccurate tag as ‘the English Rachmaninov’. This obscures an eclectic breadth of other interests, while also overlooking the fact that Bowen was already becoming noted in London before Rachmaninov’s celebrated Piano Concerto No 2 was heard there in May 1902. By then Bowen had already written his first two piano sonatas. The Rachmaninov influence arguably detectable in certain of Bowen’s mature works took some time to percolate. Even then it remained intermittent and applicable more to broad external characteristics than to particulars of idiom. Moreover, Bowen began to show a variable but significant debt in other directions, including Richard Strauss but also Debussy, with his characteristic use of augmented triad formations as a consequence of the whole-tone scale.

A breadth of first-hand instrumental knowledge, doubtless the legacy of the Scots Guards, informs Bowen’s large chamber output, rendering its recent revival a pleasurable surprise for performers as much as for listeners. Bowen’s writing is frequently challenging, yet unfailingly practical in its matching of technical and physical means to expressive effect. Bowen was first and foremost a virtuoso pianist, instinctively attuned to an étude repertoire characterized by consistency of musical figuration, and one quickly notices the sheer fluency of movement and patterning in his music. One enjoyable consequence is that, where many contemporaneous composers of a more pastoral, folksong-inspired tendency struggled to maintain momentum in a finale, Bowen came into his own with undisguised relish, exploiting an inheritance of rondo-cum-sonata form to toe-tapping, smile-inducing effect. Receptive to elevated salon fare, he possessed the subtlety to blur its distinction from the loftier aspirations of the concert hall. Accordingly, one may detect relatively little true difference in voice between slighter works and larger ones. In any case, the latter are often surprisingly compact—expansive in manner, not length. Their supposed ‘development’ sections sometimes replace organic evolution of ideas with contrasting episodes having more divertissement than cumulative intent about them. The result is a kind of ebb and flow of high-minded emotional intensity; a terrain which is candid, rewarding and harmonically sophisticated, but where a search for actual profundity is apt to miss the point.


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"Remarkable is the performances of violinist Chloë Hanslip and pianist Danny Driver, played with a wonderful and excellent drive"