Lawrence Power

York Bowen: The Complete Works for Viola & Piano

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York Bowen: The Complete Works for Viola & Piano Review

by James Leonard

This Hyperion two-disc set of York Bowen's viola works played by violist Lawrence Power is by far the most complete look at any aspect of the English composer's music. Of course, most of the music here was composed in the decade before the First World War, and thus presents a relatively limited view of his career. But since his music fell almost entirely out of favor after the war, there isn't really much more to Bowen's work to reveal. Also a front-rank piano virtuoso, Bowen was a talented composer and well-trained composer who wrote in a conservative but none the less sincere romantic style full of catchy tunes, warm harmonies, and easily graspable forms. In Power's sweet and skillful performances accompanied by pianist Simon Crawford-Philips, the two sonatas from 1905 and 1906 come as the best-formed works with cogent structures that can contain and control Bowen's big tunes and adroit modulations without becoming episodic. More immediately appealing to some, however, may be the many short, single-movement pieces that fill out the discs. Some like the Romances in D flat and A major are straightforward but charming salon music, while others, like the Fantasia for four violas and the Adagio sostenuto from Beethoven's "Moonlight" Piano Sonata with viola obbligato, are much odder but no less attractive. While not perhaps for fans of more adventurous contemporary music by Elgar and Vaughan Williams, Bowen's works here will be interesting enough to listeners dedicated to the time and the period. Hyperion's digital sound is a bit close, but warm and very vivid.

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