Classical CD Reviews
YORK BOWEN: Music For One and Two Pianos: Sonata No. 2 in E minor for two pianos (1941); Two Pieces for two pianos (1939); Waltz in C for two pianos (1941); First Rhapsody (1902); Theme and Variations for two pianos – Reid & Dussek, pianos – Dutton Epoch
Published on February 17, 2009
With the renaissance of interest in the life and work of York Bowen, many new recordings particularly of his piano music have been issued in the last twelve years since Stephen Hough’s well-regarded recording for Hyperion appeared. This CD consists completely of world premiere recordings and is enthusiastically welcomed.
The second of Bowen’s sonatas for two pianos is a substantial, romantic work, written in 1941, and was played at those famous wartime National Gallery concerts by Bowen and Harry Isaacs. Full of drama contrasting with a lyrical air the first movement is big-boned and demanding on the pianists. A quiet and peaceful second movement is followed by a quicksilver scherzo, and the last movement ends with power and hope. The two pianos are very well balanced across the soundstage and Michael Dutton’s recording is superb, coping with the dynamic demands effortlessly.
The Theme and Variations from 1951 is a delightful concoction; although somewhat dated at the time of its composition and undervalued for that reason, it has come into its own after over half a century. It’s unpretentious and entertaining and closes the recital so well.
The First Rhapsody, for solo piano, was written in 1902 when Bowen was eighteen years old. It’s an astonishing achievement, its bold youth coming through with immediacy. It is understandable Sir Henry Wood was so impressed and performed Bowen’s first orchestral piece, The Lament of Tasso, at the Proms in 1903, and his First Piano Concerto in 1904.
The remaining pieces on this CD are shorter works for two pianos, a most demanding Toccata, an evocative idyll, the Nocturne, both dating from 1939, and, from 1941 during the depths of the war, an optimistic and high-spirited waltz, echoing the optimism shown in the second sonata for two pianos.
Michael Dussek, very much Dutton’s house pianist and soloist in three of Bowen’s concertos for that label, plays with his customary excellence, and is partnered by an equally talented John Reid who was one of Dussek’s pupils. Michael Dutton’s recording is excellent and truthful, and the booklet notes by Lewis Foreman a model of their kind. Highly recommended!
– Peter Joelson