Joop Celis

Joop Celis Plays York Bowen, Vol. 2

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York Bowen was a British pianist/composer of the early and middle twentieth century -- a fairly uncommon combination in that time and place. The otherwise fine booklet notes make the claim that he was the first pianist to record Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, which may well be true but is a startling enough claim to require specifics that are not provided. He was sometimes called "the English Rachmaninoff," and his piano music is full of technical minefields. A conservative, almost forgotten since the onset of modernist repression in the 1950s, he is being championed by Dutch pianist Joop Celis; this is the second in what is apparently an ongoing series of discs covering Bowen's roughly 160 compositions. The results are mixed. The Chandos label's publicity for this release touts Bowen's "fusion" style, pointing to French neo-Classic elements -- and there's a good deal of English academic absorption of Brahmsian models as well. But it's less a fusion than a hodgepodge of imperfectly digested samples. The mixture of Russian and French was characteristic of Rachmaninoff himself, but it's hard to pin down ways in which Bowen went beyond what had already been done other than some obligatory muddying of the harmonic language. This said, the music, even if it doesn't resound in the head, is pretty exciting in the way that Rachmaninoff's is -- it tames the beast that is the modern grand piano. The smaller works, especially the Four Bagatelles, Op. 147, are the most successful, featuring subtle explorations of dense pianistic effects. The three-movement Piano Sonata No. 5 is rather ponderous, but does allow Celis to display the full range of his considerable skills. Not a lot of English piano music of this period is much played now, and this disc will fill some holes on the shelf for lovers of English music.

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