Photo: York Bowen

Jeffrey Joseph
Piccolo Divertimento [World premiere]
York Bowen
String Quartet No.2 in D minor, Op.41
String Quartet No.3 in G major, Op.46

Archaeus Quartet
[Ann Hooley & Bridget Davey (violins), Elizabeth Turnbull (viola) and Martin Thomas (cello)]
Having waited outside the BMIC until somebody had the bright idea of ringing the doorbell, the audience was directed to what must once have been a drawing room. What is now a performing area has shelves of files (presumably of British music) around the walls. When all had found their seats, the audience numbered six, one of whom proved to be Mr Jeffrey Joseph.
His Piccolo Divertimento is an unpretentious duo for violin and viola in seven brief movements; a fine work in a didactic sort of way. Following this was York Bowen’s Third String Quartet, a three-movement piece written in the early 1920s. When it was over Mr Joseph and his group left rapidly … for the second half, the audience was down to two. Before there was time to consider whether the impending recession was affecting the size of London audiences, Bowen’s Second Quartet begun. Another three-movement work, two fast ones separated by an expressive slow one.
Both of these Quartets make one marvel at the composer’s handling of a medium he appeared to revel in, and also wonder why nobody seems to have heard of them. Possibly the impact of the Quartets was enhanced by being heard in a small room, in the circumstances of almost a private performance, but the intensity of both works is unmistakable.
When the concert was over, we were all by now on familiar terms, and a brief discussion followed: the Archaeus Quartet are recording these works; Bowen’s First Quartet does not seem to exist; there is though a quartet for four violas, which might perhaps be No.1. The Archaeus’s members disappeared to an ante-room, leaving the two-strong audience to go to the ’Hog in the Pound’ discussing whether York Bowen’s English idiom had successfully avoided, or simply igonored, modernism. As the debate grew more unstructured, the unexpected strength of Bowen’s music remained in the memory – I look forward to the CD.
As for York Bowen himself, he was a Londoner (1884-1961), on the staff of the Royal Academy of music, a pianist, and is best remembered for his piano pieces, some of which can be heard on Stephen Hough’s Hyperion CD, CDA66838. Yet Bowen wrote a number of concertos, three for piano and one each for violin and viola. There’s also a symphony. His opus numbers go up to at least 155 – another composer to discover?

  • York Bowen Piano Music on the Hyperion Website
  • Visit the BMIC website at www.bmic.co.uk
  • The York Bowen Society, active for many years under the presidency of Sir Adrian Boult, is now inactive because of the retirement of its founder and administrator John Lindsay. However, Mr Lindsay has an enormous amount of information about (and enthusiasm for) York Bowen which he is very happy to share with interested music-lovers. He is not accessible by email or fax but he may be written to at:

    John Lindsay Esq
    Cairnbield
    Gordon
    Berwickshire TD3 6JT
    England

    His telephone number is 01573 410380

 

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