Classical CD Reviews

BENJAMIN DALE: Piano Sonata; Prunella; Night Fancies; YORK BOWEN: Miniature Suite – Danny Driver, p. – Hyperion

Benjamin Dale (1885-1943) and York Bowen (1884-1961) are back firmly in the repertoire and on disc.

Published on July 20, 2011

BENJAMIN DALE:  Piano Sonata; Prunella; Night Fancies; YORK BOWEN:  Miniature Suite – Danny Driver, p. – Hyperion

BENJAMIN DALE:  Piano Sonata; Prunella; Night Fancies; YORK BOWEN:  Miniature Suite – Danny Driver, piano – Hyperion CDA67827 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] 65:17 ****:

After years of neglect, the music of Benjamin Dale (1885-1943) and York Bowen (1884-1961) is back firmly in the repertoire and on disc, thanks largely to Stephen Hough’s first CD of works by Bowen for Hyperion around a decade ago.  Since then, Chandos, Hyperion and Dutton have issued a swathe of CDs by both composers which have appealed to those of us who enjoy fairly conservative music dating from the earlier part of the twentieth century.

Dale, who found himself in Ingolstadt when the First World War broke out, had to remain in Germany until 1918, housed in the outskirts of Berlin in the interment camp, Ruhleben.  By this stage, the Piano Sonata was already fifteen years old, slightly younger than the composer was when he began it in 1902.  It’s a sonata of grand proportions, lasting nearly three-quarters of an hour, and the very opening bars certainly grabbed this listener’s attention with its powerful first motif.  The big-boned writing found several early performers of note, among them Benno Moiseiwitch and Dame Myra Hess.  For all its length, it is a tightly written piece;  the finely constructed first movement is followed by a slow movement and scherzo, together making up a theme and seven variations, an interesting conceit.  A powerful finale completes the sonata in Lisztian mode.  Danny Driver rises seemingly effortlessly to the fearsome challenges of the piece and produces a performance highlighting the shape of the work.   A combination of striking originality and inspiration by other composers, the sonata faded into obscurity after twenty years, resurfacing only in the 1990s when that fine pianist, Peter Jacobs, reintroduced and recorded it.

The two shorter pieces, “Prunella” and “Night Fancies” show different sides to the composer, the former a brief work evoking Edwardian atmosphere, the latter more substantial and more Impressionistic.

York Bowen’s “Miniature Suite” is a delight, a sorbet to the rich fare preceding it.  Francis Potts, in his excellent booklet essay, describes it as “disarmingly attractive” which sums up accurately the effect it has on this listener.

Danny Driver, a pianist with a wide interest in music for his instrument, is a joy to listen to, and his Steinway as recorded in the Henry Wood Hall, London, sounds extremely well, a credit to Hyperion’s engineers.  The curious will want to sample the works on Hyperion’s website with the caveat you may be tempted by all sorts of gems there!  Strongly recommended!

– Peter Joelson




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