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Bowen: Viola Sonatas 1& 2, Phantasy / Bridge Duo

Release Date: 12/13/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572580  
Composer:  York Bowen
Performer:  Matthew JonesMichael Hampton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge Duo
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BOWEN Viola Sonatas: Nos. 1; No. 2. Fantasy for Viola and Piano Bridge Duo NAXOS 8.572580 (71: 18)

Edwin York Bowen, known primarily by his middle name rather than his first, was one of England’s shining lights among composers of the late-Romantic period, but—for him, at least—something went horribly wrong around the time of World War I. Music became more modern. Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Scriabin, Debussy, and even Rachmaninoff (to whom he was often compared) updated their musical language. Fellow Briton Read more Frank Bridge would completely revamp his musical style by the mid 1920s, but not Bowen. He stayed the course, writing great music in a tonal style, until the end of his days in 1961. As a result, he was pushed to the side and forgotten by history, but in the 1990s he was suddenly rediscovered because, despite his use of older formats and standard compositional techniques, he was a remarkably interesting and creative composer. I daresay that we are still slowly exploring all of his works (he left a great many, in various genres) and realizing that he was a master of surprise modulations, of varying moods, and just a great musician in general.

The Bridge Duo consists of violist Matthew Jones and pianist Michael Hampton, and from the very first notes of this CD you realize that you’re in for a treat. The music, in their capable hands, has such a tremendous sweep and drive that you are immediately sucked into the vortex. Yes, they’re that good. Jones’s tone and technique will simply take your breath away, and Hampton’s pianism has both rhythmic drive and a lyrical quality. As for the music, for those who haven’t heard it before, it is simply terrific. As I mentioned, Bowen was a master of modulations, often moving through a large number of keys in short stretches of music, and even in a work for nothing more than viola and piano he manages to find equally surprising textures. The second sonata is pretty much a jolly romp (though one that keeps you tuned in to the surprising turns of phrase), but in the first sonata and the Fantasy, in three connected sections that act as movements, his sense of drama and imaginative use of thematic material was never more evident. These are great works, regardless of the time in which they were written (the Fantasy as late as 1918, by which time everyone else was using modes, whole-tone scales, polytonality, and/or atonality), and they simply jump out at you. (As a sidelight, I must thank Bill McLaughlin and his radio program St. Paul Sunday for introducing me to the music of York Bowen about eight years ago.)

These three works were all recorded before by violist James Boyd and pianist Bengt Forsberg on the Dutton label, which dedicated itself in the early 2000s to the preservation of much of Bowen’s chamber music. They’re good musicians, with a fine sense of style, but by comparison with Jones, Boyd has a somewhat tight sound, more violinish than viola-ish, and Forsberg in particular lacks the proper sweep for the music. These performances have that sweep, and also, in the person of Jones, the finest violist I’ve heard since William Primrose last laid down his instrument. (In England he is hailed as a worthy successor to the legendary Lionel Tertis, for whom these pieces were written.) If you already know Bowen and these pieces, this is an irresistible disc at the budget price. If you don’t know Bowen, this is a hell of a great place to start!

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Viola and Piano no 1 in C minor, Op. 18 by York Bowen
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Michael Hampton (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge Duo
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Sonata for Viola and Piano no 2 in F major, Op. 22 by York Bowen
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Michael Hampton (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge Duo
Period: 20th Century 
Fantasy for Viola and Piano, Op. 54 by York Bowen
Performer:  Matthew Jones (Viola), Michael Hampton (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bridge Duo
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918; England 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 good. June 30, 2012 By F. Franssen (Roermond, Limburg) See All My Reviews "Today I listened the 2nd viola sonate. All the music was good and profassional played." Report Abuse
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