York Bowen – The Complete Works for Viola & Piano – Lawrence Power & Simon Crawford-Phillips

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Sonata No.1 in C minor for Viola and Piano, Op.18
Sonata No.2 in F for Viola and Piano, Op.22
Romance in D flat
Fantasia for four violas, Op.41/1
Phantasy in F, Op.54
Romance in A
Allegro de concert
Melody for the G string, Op.47
Melody for the C string, Op.51/2
Rhapsody in G minorBeethoven
Piano Sonata in C sharp minor, Op.27/2 (Moonlight) – first movement [with viola obbligato by York Bowen, completed and edited by Lawrence Power]

Lawrence Power (viola) & Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano) with Philip Dukes, James Boyd & Scott Dickinson (violas)

Recorded 29-31 October & 5-7 November 2007 in Potton Hall, Suffolk, England

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: November 2008
CDA67651/2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 3 minutes



While British music of the first half of the twentieth-century was dominated by the likes of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, there is a wealth of excellent music that sprung from lesser-known composers. Londoner York Bowen (1884-1961) was a student-contemporary of Arnold Bax at the Royal College of Music and notable as a pianist and violist as well as a composer. He studied composition with Frederick Corder, whose reflective compositional idiom is evident in his pupil’s melodic style.

The viola sonatas that open each of Hyperion’s discs were completed within a year of each other, in 1905 and 1906, while Bowen was still a student. From the outset the formal influences of Brahms and Beethoven are not far from the composer’s mind; a strict sonata structure forms the basis of the First Sonata’s opening movement. The excellent booklet note of Lewis Foreman refers to Bowen as a “fresh breeze blowing through British music”, an understandable comment even if the music is firmly seated in the Romantic tradition.

Music for multiples of the same instrument is not all that common and is often written for a particular group of musicians available at given time. The violist Lionel Tertis, for whom Bowen was a regular accompanist, championed music for his instrument, including viola ensembles. Later Bowen did too, believing the viola’s tonal quality to be superior to that of the violin. Fantasia for four violas was composed for Tertis and his pupils in 1907. Here Philip Dukes, James Boyd and Scott Dickinson join Lawrence Power in this delightful 10-minute piece that is more Impressionistic than the broadly contemporaneous sonatas. In this recording the players are clear and distinctly placed for a clean and uncluttered rendition of a luscious and beautiful work alone worth buying the discs for.

The other works are much in the same vein, each delightful, and showing Bowen to be a composer with an individual voice. An interesting curio of is Bowen’s viola ‘accompaniment’ to the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. Bowen wrote the first 57 bars as an exercise for his teacher who encouraged pupils to write such ‘accompaniments’. Lawrence Power has completed it in a similar manner.

The only piece here that dates from Bowen’s later years is the Rhapsody in G minor (1955). It was written for Maurice Loban, one of a succession of sonatas for the various instruments written by Bowen in the 1940s and 1950s. It is in one continuous movement and is stylistically more advanced than his earlier music, though still very much in a diatonic style.

The duo of Lawrence Power and Simon Crawford-Phillips make light work of Bowen’s not-insubstantial piano and viola writing (Bowen was an accomplished pianist and made the first-ever recording of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto). The players are closely balanced so that every nuance of their performances is audible, including breathing! The latter shouldn’t cause a problem and adds to the intimacy.

All in all, this excellent production brings to life a particular output of a composer who, worthily, is generating more and more interest.

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