Bowen
Piano Concerto No.3 in G minor (Fantasia), Op.23
Piano Concerto No.4 in A minor, Op.88
Danny Driver (piano)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins

Recorded 30 & 31 August 2007 in City Halls, Glasgow
CD No: HYPERION CDA67659
Duration: 61 minutes
Reviewed: November 2008
York Bowen Piano Concertos 3 & 4/Danny Driver The current interest in York Bowen’s music makes this Hyperion release very desirable, not least for the large-scale Piano Concerto No.4, which here receives its first recording.
In Danny Driver both concertos have a dedicated and charismatic advocate, backed to the hilt by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, all captured in well-balanced and dynamic sound. London-born Bowen (1894-1961), a notable pianist in his own right, completed his Third Piano Concerto in 1907. It’s a one-movement, multi-sectional affair that bears well the title of ‘Fantasia’. It is full of ingenious invention, which bursts into life and which gives the listener a feast of colour and memorable tunes, a pastoral, laconic and joyous work that should be better known. Previously recorded on the Dutton Epoch label by Michael Dussek with Vernon Handley conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra, it’s good now to have a second version of this delightful and invigorating work.
Through lacking a recording until now, Piano Concerto No.4 (1929) is less familiar if not unperformed. The composer gave the premiere in 1937 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Adrian Boult. He played it again the following year and returned to it in 1957 at the BBC Proms with Basil Cameron conducting. Its 40-minute-plus breadth (the three movements being of more or less equal length) is established at the outset; a journey is being undertaken, a sense of impressive scale and vivid narrative established. Moving on from the scintillation and urbanity of the previous piano concerto, the Fourth is darker, somewhat elusive, the ideas no less attractive though, a potent synthesis of high-Romanticism and Impressionism created.
This is music that attracts without giving away all its secrets in one go. Immediately though one can enjoy the exploration and sweep of the first movement, then the sheer nocturnal beauty of the slow movement (with lovely solos for cor anglais and viola) and round things off with the bravura of the initially heroic finale with its snappy rhythms (occasionally reminding of Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto and Third Symphony, both masterpieces). Another composer to perhaps mention is Arnold Bax; like him in many works Bowen here winds his concerto down to a nostalgic epilogue (initiated by a return to the opening of the work). The journey has come full-circle; we may not always be sure where we have been, but that is the beauty of a recording – especially one as good as this – for we can start again and take more in.
This is a handsome addition (as No.46) to Hyperion’s “The Romantic Piano Concerto” series.

 

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