Lawrence Power / Martyn Brabbins

York Bowen: Viola Concerto; Cecil Forsyth: Viola Concerto

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These concertos by English composers York Bowen and Cecil Forsyth give that oft-abused instrument, the viola, here played splendidly by Lawrence Power, a chance to grab the spotlight in the same rich Romantic vein as the violin in its most popular concertos. The first concerto here, by Bowen, is comparable to Sibelius' Violin Concerto in many ways. It has great lyricism, passionate themes, and lush orchestration, and it uses a harmonic palette that is tonal yet extremely colorful. The difference between the Bowen and the Sibelius is that even though Bowen's outer movements begin in the minor, they do not stay there long and are generally sunny in outlook. The middle movement lets Power use his beautiful, singing tone to full advantage in a folk ballad-like melody. Forsyth's concerto is more traditionally Romantic in its harmony and its drama. It begins with a crash and a recitative for the viola before the heroically dark theme begins. The soloist is really given the bulk of the work in this concerto, with large portions of the first and second movements having little accompaniment. That second movement is melancholy, elegaic, and a quiet, at times very quiet, respite before the drama returns in the final, triumphant movement. The album's program notes compare Forsyth's melodies to Dvorák's, the way they work dotted rhythms into tunes, but his orchestration is also very much like Dvorák's in the way the woodwinds and brass are used to carry thematic material in turn with the strings. Power and conductor Martyn Brabbins both allow the music its ardency, but maintain a sense of structure in these works. Brabbins also allows those different timbres of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra to be distinguishable within the whole. And in those distinctions, the sections are precise in their execution. There are some dangerously high notes for the violins at the end of the Bowen, which the orchestra pulls off brilliantly. The one disappointment in this album is that the viola wasn't recorded more closely. The composers really meant for the viola to take centerstage in these concertos, but here the orchestra tends to overwhelm the sound and impact of Power's warm and genuine playing.

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