Musicweb International
Music by York Bowen (1884-1961)
Viola Concerto in C Minor Op. 25 (1907) [35.33]
Viola Sonata No. 2 in F Major (1911) [26.07]
Melody for the C string Op. 51 No. 2 [4.48]
Doris Lederer (viola)
Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra/Paul Polivnick
Bruce Murray (piano)
Rec. 19-20 Nov 2004, Prague Radio Studio 1; 7 June 2004, LSU Rectal Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 2786 [68.22]
There is something very appealing about the gritty immediacy - some might say ferocity - of this recording of the Bowen Viola Concerto. By comparison with the luxurious concert realism and transparency of the Hyperion recording with Laurence Power this grips the listener from the beginning. Doris Lederer, by now the veteran of three previous British music collections on Centaur, completes the picture with an ardent tone that reaches out imploring and imperious.

The York Bowen was written for Lionel Tertis, the subject of John White's biography to be published later this year. It is a tremendously ardent work. The writing is stirringly romantic and quite Straussian or to use a closer national parallel, Bantock-like. The start of the slow movement is surely influenced by Bantock's Pierrot, by his Scottish highland fantasies, perhaps by Delius and by the Bruch Scottish Fantasy. The finale is notable for its chirpy Sibelian writing for the woodwind. The optimistic tone of the writing veers between melodrama and lighter ideas that may remind you of the music-hall. In this juxtaposing and reconciling of the incongruous we can think of Holbrooke's orchestral music (e.g. his Byron and Ulalume) and, at a more exalted level, of Mahler and his dalliance with military band music. All in all this is a fascinatingly entertaining piece which ends in a wonderful shriek from the trumpets and a war-whoop from horns.

The Second Viola Sonata is from three years later. It is in three movements again but this time the tone is rather different from that of the concerto. Essentially it is light music with its terms of reference firmly harnessed to the music-hall and the salon. It's all very polished but there is little of the profundity of the first viola sonata or the quartets or of many of the other works featured in the Dutton Epoch series. The Melody in C is a grateful and soulful piece. Despite its brevity, coming after the salon-light sonata the Melody impresses with its tawny slow-flowing Brahmsian sentiment.

The scene-setting notes are by accompanist Bruce Murray.

If I had to go for a single version of the Bowen Viola Concerto this would be it. The contrasting Forsyth Concerto makes the Hyperion very special if you would like a collection of two viola concertos. On the other hand if you are still exploring York Bowen then this all-Bowen collection is the choice offering a truly vibrant .recording of the Concerto and the only recording of the Melody and Second Sonata.

Rob Barnett
Musicweb International
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