Bowen Symphonies Nos 1 & 2 Davis BBC Philharmonic 2011

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Bowen: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 - Davis, BBC Philharmonic (2011)
EAC Rip | Flac (Image + cue + log) | 1 CD | Full Scans | 299 MB
Genre: Classical | Label: Chandos | Catalog Number: 10670

"York Bowen has a distinguished reputation as a composer and was considered to be one of Britain's finest pianists. In his day he was known as 慣he English Rachmaninoff', and Saint-Saens described him as ?he most remarkable of the young British composers'. The works of York Bowen tend to display a blend of romanticism and strong individuality, and although his influences include the likes of Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky, his music is also strongly defined by textures and harmonies that are uniquely 態owen'. This recording presents the only two surviving symphonies by Bowen: Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2, which are performed here by the BBC Philharmonic under the exclusive Chandos artist Sir Andrew Davis."

Symphony No. 1 was written in 1902 when Bowen was an eighteen-year-old composition student at the Royal Academy of Music. The work is laid out in only three movements (unusual for the time), and requires a relatively modest orchestra. It is a deeply impressive achievement - the beauty and lyricism of the second movement and its myriad of orchestral colourations, together with a unique and often surprising sense of well-being in the finale, demonstrate that here is a genuinely symphonic composer who was not content just to copy established models and appease his professors. At least one movement of this symphony was performed during Bowen's time at the academy, but this recording may well be the first time that the work has been performed in its entirety.

When Bowen composed his Symphony No. 2 just seven years after completing his first, much had happened in the world of modern music, not least in instrumental terms with the acceptance of large orchestras as standard. As a result this work is much larger in scale than his first symphony, and performed with significantly larger instrumental forces too. The finale in particular is spectacular in the way it develops from the tiniest semi-tonal seed into a fiery and almost unstoppable flood of 態owen-esque' inventiveness. This symphony is the work of an assured composer who was completely certain in his music's sense of direction and in the positive and life-affirming nature of his compositions.

Composer: York Bowen
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra "

"Reviews: York Bowen's First Symphony is a curious work, almost an anti-symphony by contemporary terms: a pair of lightly dancing if lengthy scherzos, strongly influenced by Tchaikovsky (and occasionally Sullivan), surrounding a fervent larghetto whose treatment at one point offers its songful main theme on the strings, while the winds and brass take turns laughing at it. The work's origin in Bowen's student years (age 18) is understandable, as no professional British composer could have hoped for such a composition to be accepted and performed by a professional ensemble of the time. The symphony's structural coherence might well owe something to the friendly hand of Bowen's composition professor, Frederick Corder, but its smiling wit is a quality that would surface repeatedly in his later works.

The Symphony No. 2 appeared seven years later. It is more conventional in its treatment of form, while the thematic and harmonic elements bear the strong influence of Tchaikovsky (especially his Second and Fifth symphonies), Debussy, Rachmaninoff (particularly his Second Symphony), and Dukas. It's a diffuse if sometimes pleasant work, more convincing in its moments than in its entirety, with a fair amount of sequential padding in place of development, and a fair amount of pose-striking that doesn't come off. The slow movement is the best, an imaginative thing of kaleidoscopic moods instead of the usual monothematic focus. The rest is a matter of waiting impatiently for the good bits.

I've found Andrew Davis's conducting inconsistent in the past. He can be exciting, or as in the First Symphony here, emotionally withdrawn, the cuffs well in place, focusing on clarity and exquisite balance. Much remains to enjoy using that approach in this pair of works, but there's far more passion and energy to be mined-for example, the First Symphony's allegro con brio finale canters at about 120 bpm when it should gallop, while the lyrical slow movement is held off at arm's length, with little of the poetry in its phrasing that its ardent theme and treatment would seem to call for. The Second receives a far more enthusiastic treatment, thankfully so, as it requires that much to make any effect, at all.

There's no recorded competition in the First Symphony-indeed, this is listed as its album premiere. The Symphony No. 2 has been issued by the Royal Northern College of Music SO (Classico 404), though it simply isn't up to the level of the BBC Philharmonic, despite Douglas Bostock's drive.

The liner notes are hagiographic, at times embarrassingly so. "As a pianist, his [Bowen's] recordings reveal a technique which knew no peer ... ." A shame such laggards as Rachmaninoff, Hoffmann, Godowsky, Paderewski, Backhaus, Moisewitsch, the Lhevinnes, Horowitz, and others simply didn't realize his technique was their superior. Would have saved a lot of time and effort if they'd all gone into retail, really.

Engineering is lifelike, effectively balanced, and close. I wish I could be more exited about the Second Symphony, but it's the First that's far more interesting. Hopefully, we'll get a reading at some point where the sense of engagement matches the work's own high spirits, but in the meantime, this will certainly do. "


1. Symphony no 1 in G major, Op. 4 by York Bowen
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1902; England

2. Symphony no 2 in E minor, Op. 31 by York Bowen
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1909; England

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