Vernon Handley

York Bowen: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3; Symphonic Fantasia, Op. 16

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As Romantic as they are virtuosic, the three works on this disc by English composer York Bowen are certainly worth at least one hearing by enthusiasts of Edwardian music. A prodigy as both a pianist and a composer, Bowen is represented here by three works written before he was 30: the Piano Concertos No. 2 ("Concertstücke") from 1905 and No. 3 ("Fantasia") from 1907, as well as his Symphonic Fantasia from 1905. All three works are relatively lightly scored for orchestra; despite its obvious debt to Strauss, for example, the Symphonic Fantasia is amazingly transparent with lots of wind solos and undoubled string lines. In the concertos, Bowen gave most of the notes along with much of the music to his own instrument, challenging the soloist not only to show off a dazzling technique but to carry the main thread of the musical discourse as well. Whether this works or not as a compositional strategy is up to the individual listener, but no one could fault pianist Michael Dussek's efforts to keep everything moving forward. A more than capable virtuoso, Dussek cannot only play Bowen's plethora of notes, he can make as convincing a case as is imaginable for the music. Supported through thick and thin by the doughty Vernon Handley and the indefatigable BBC Concert Orchestra, Dussek is free to range across Bowen's music as he wants, and his performances may go some way toward returning Bowen's music to the fringes of the repertoire.

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