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York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Viola Concerto in C minor (1907) [35:55]
Cecil FORSYTH (1870-1941)

Viola Concerto in G minor (1903) [26:25]
Lawrence Power (viola)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. Caird Hall, Dundee, Scotland, 11-12 Dec 2004. DDD
HYPERION CDA 67546 [62:28]

Two viola concertos written for Lionel Tertis during the 1900s, the Bowen receiving its world premiere recording and the Forsyth probably its second outing on CD. The first Forsyth on LP was from Supraphon and this might well have been reissued on CD. Interestingly Tertis paid the Forsyth no heed whatsoever leaving its premiere to Emile Ferir. The works performances in Bournemouth were taken by Siegfried Wertheim.

York Bowen has been undergoing a steady but modest revival over the last decade or so. Works such as the sonatas for flute and for clarinet have often been in the catalogue. Lyrita recorded the composer in some of his solo piano music. Marie-Catherine Girod recorded the complete 24 Preludes on Opès-3D in the late 1980s. Then Stephen Hough gave us a selection of the piano music for Hyperion. This attracted some acclaim. Since then there have been three chamber music CDs from Dutton Epoch, one outstanding and unmissable disc of the string quartets from the British Music Society and two from Centaur and Doris Lederer. Recently Ms Lederer has given us a third which provides some competition for the Bowen Viola Concerto on Centaur CRC2786. ClassicO have issued the Second Symphony conducted by Douglas Bostock; now comes the present disc. How long before we get recordings of the other concertos: French Horn (written for Dennis Brain and rumoured to have been in the can with Lyrita for upwards of two decades), four allegedly Rachmaninovian piano concertos (1903-37), a Violin Concerto (1923) and a Rhapsody for cello and orchestra as well as the Sinfonietta Concertante for brass and orchestra (1957) and a Jig for two pianos and orchestra.

The Bowen Viola Concerto exudes an opulent grandiloquence. Its not quite Elgar although there are moments in the finale of this three movement work when Elgar is invoked. The first movement sounds more like Korngold but without his over-saturated melodic traits. I also caught myself thinking of Tchaikovsky in his violin concerto. The second movement is more celtic and reflective, recalling the Bax Viola Rhapsody (recorded by Rivka Golani on Conifer) and Bruch's Scottish Fantasy. The finale had some disorientating references to Massenet and Saint-Saëns but it soon returns to the serious centre of gravity asserted in the first movement. The work ends in a shrieking golden trumpet and the Straussian barking of the horns. The abiding impression is of a work of overpowering confidence.

This is another very encouraging issue; valuable and deeply enjoyable in itself. It prepares the ground for future recordings in the same late romantic vein as the Bowen. Someone really should pick up the Bowen Violin Concerto and couple it with the Haydn Wood Violin Concerto - the latter a superb and very successful concise work of Tchaikovskian mood and manners. I also hope that Hyperion have not forgotten what they started with their superb disc of Bortkiewicz's two symphonies. The same composer's concertos for violin and for cello - one each - are grateful and melodically well endowed works that deserve the attention of music-lovers everywhere.

Cecil Forsyth was born in Greenwich on 30 November 1870 and died in New York on 7 December 1941. He was a writer on music as well as a composer. Educated at Edinburgh University he then studied with Stanford and Parry at the RCM. His connection with the Savoy Theatre secured performances of two of his comic operas: Westward Ho! and Cinderella. In 1914 he left England for the U.S.A. where he was to take up permanent residence in New York working for the music publishers H. W. Gray. He wrote various books: a Manual on Orchestration in 1914 and Choral Orchestration in 1920. These joined his study of English Opera, Music and Nationalism in 1911. His A History of Music dates from 1916 and was written in conjunction with Stanford. There is a collection of essays titled Clashpans (1933). His music includes The Last Supper for baritone, chorus and orchestra; Ode to a Nightingale for baritone and orchestra after Keats, two Masses, a Chant Celtique for viola and orchestra, Four Studies from Victor Hugo also songs, church choral music, part-songs, piano music and other instrumental pieces.

The Cecil Forsyth Viola Concerto is shorter, darker and by no means as outwardly brilliant as the Bowen. Dvořk, Mendelssohn (Italian Symphony) and Brahms are the triangulation points. There are no exotic asides or adventures. There are some nice magical faery moments at 8.38 as the viola emerges from his cadenza. The funereal andante has a Brucknerian darkness that also reminded me of the liturgical moments in Romeo and Juliet and the darker reflections of Fibich in his Third Symphony. These prepare the ground for a tender monologue by the soloist. The movement may have started in funereal weeds but it ends in utter calm. The finale is lively.

The piano reduction of the Forsyth concerto was made by none other than John Ireland.

Two painfully neglected viola concertos brought out into the sunlight by Hyperion. If you enjoy your Dvořk, Coleridge-Taylor and Tchaikovsky you should snap up this disc without delay.

Rob Barnett

see also

Recording session report from Lewis Foreman

SOME THOUGHTS ON YORK BOWEN by John Lindsay with discography and worklist.



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