Symphony No 1 Op 4, Symphony No 2 Op 31
BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davis
Chandos CHAN10670

Chandos and Sir Andrew Davis have put us in their debt for unearthing these scores.

York Bowen was renowned during his lifetime (1884-1961) as a virtuoso pianist while as a composer he was dubbed, rightly or wrongly, “the English Rachmaninov”. Saint-Saëns, no less, was an admirer. 

The bulk of Bowen’s First Symphony was composed when he was 18. If it were a person, I imagine it would be a genial, ruddy-cheeked countryman eager to buy you a pint. The orchestration is delightful and full of subtle colouring and themes with convincing development. The entire three-movement work has a charming alfresco quality. I was bemused to read one contemporary review which condescendingly described it as full of “frolicsome innocence”. How such precocious talent could be described as innocent is beyond me.

The Second Symphony of 1909 is more ambitious and substantial. Bowen’s inventiveness never falters over the entire duration of almost 45 minutes. The first two movements are long-spanned but impressively cohesive, completely avoiding the episodic structure of so many 20th century English symphonies. The scherzo is an absolute charmer: a cross between Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn, begging to be described as “gossamer”. Bowen clearly had no truck with the finale-itis (the qualitative fault line between the first three movements and the last, which often descends to vacuous note-spinning) that afflicted even composers of Walton’s calibre.

The final movement here is just as inspired as its predecessors and in fact ends in a real blaze of creative glory. Once again, Chandos and Sir Andrew Davis have put us in their debt for unearthing these scores. Both the sound and performances are excellent.

Copyright © Limelight Magazine. All rights reserved

This article appeared in the September, 2011 issue of Limelight Magazine.

What are your thoughts on this article? Have your say and leave your comments below.
NOTE: You must be a registered member of Limelight to post a comment.
Click here to login | Click here to register
Please read our guidelines on commenting. Offending posts will be removed and your access may be suspended. Abusive or obscene language will not be tolerated. The comments below do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Limelight or its employees.
BOWEN: Symphonies Nos 1-2 (BBC Philharmonic/Davis)
4 out of 5
Current Issue
May 2014 issue on sale now!
What's On
Close Get the May 2014 issue of Limelight mailed to you for $8.50, including postage.

Buy now
Digital Version