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24 Préludes, op. 102 (n°1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 10, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21 & 22) - Ballade n°2, op.87 - Sonate n°5, op.72 - Berceuse, op.83 - Moto perpetuo (de l'op.39) - Toccata, op.155 - Romances n°1, op.35 & n°2, op.45 / Stephen Hough, piano
GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE / CRITICS' CHOICE 'This disc came as quite a revelation ... This eloquent new collection suggests that a radical reappraisal of Bowen's compositional achievement is long overdue ... It is well-nigh impossible to imagine a more sensitive or imperious advocate for Bowen's art than Stephen Hough who responds with his customary effortless technical mastery, rapt affection and intrepid panache' --Gramophone
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Bowen was a fabulous pianist and it shows in these pieces covering various periods in his career and forms. The disc holds a selection of Preludes, a Ballade, a Toccata, a Moto Perpetuo and a Sonata. Stephan Hough plays beautifully and the recorded is balanced and clear. The notes are excellent in providing a look at the life of York Bowen and the background of the pieces on this disc. I knew about this CD but had not gotten around to buying it until recently. My advice is not to wait.
This disc is a revelation of very fine piano works full of musical ideas and requiring virtuoso playing to be successful. This, Hough gives it in every way, in turns passionate, tender, intense and nimble enough to play the complex and detailed scores seemingly without effort. Everything flows naturally as if these were the easiest pieces in the world to play. Bowen owes a debt to the Russians, particularly Rachmaninov, and there's even a hint of Chopin in the Ballade and Berceuse, but it is his own music and not derivative. A production decision was made to play thirteen of the twenty-four Preludes in all the major and minor keys, Op. 102. This probably would have taken twenty minutes out of the program. As interesting as hearing the entire work would seem, I am willing to defer to the people at Hyperion and Hough, who surely was part of the decision. bowen seems to have become Hyperion's special project much as Chandos took up Bax and they must have decided it was more valuable to present a broader survey of his works. The CD is seventy-seven minutes as it is.
The Preludes run through an array of moods from the exotic No.10 (track 3), the joyful and soaring No.7 (track 4), a somber and melancholy No.8 (track 5), the lyrical and gentle No.19 (track 11) or the fast ferocity of Nos. 20 and 18 (tracks 12 and 13). The opening theme of the Ballade reminds me a bit of Delius before it goes its own way. The Sonata No.5 is the highlight of the disc, a truly major work that requires many hearings to appreciate. The Berceuse has Chopin-like flourishes and a dreamy atmosphere. The Moto perpetuo is remarkably swift and at time witty and always demanding of the pianist. After a powerful and exciting Toccata come two gentle Romances dedicated to the composer's wife.
Bowen taught at the Royal Academy until 1959 and his reputation rested on his being a virtuoso pianist on stage rather than his compositions. But i is becoming clear that he was a composer of great talent and deserves to be heard today.
My only complaint is that only some of the Preludes are present. I tend toward complete sets for one reason: They usually contain works that would not be heard outside of such a recording. In this case, it will be a while before the "missing" Preludes can be found in an acceptable format. They are hyper-Romantic, a perfect blend of technique, melody and bravura.
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