London born Edwin York Bowen lived from 1884-1961, and it was said that he could play most orchestral instruments acceptably. His Viola Sonatas date from 1905 when the composer was just 21 years of age (the fine two pages of liner notes talk about his influences and life in more detail). Viola Sonata No. 1 is warm and melodic, with the viola taking the main melodic themes through a series of fascinating and emotional swells, while the piano provides the type of support like an old friend should, always ready to welcome the viola when it returns to the main line. The two excel and enjoin together about ¾ of the way through the first movement in a way that is particularly gripping. The second movement is somewhat retrospective, and I give high marks here to Matthew Jones (viola) for bringing out the warm tones and expressiveness of his instrument, as well as Michael Hampton (piano) for his sensitive performance technique and dreamy accompaniment in this movement - they are both just outstanding. The final movement brings to a close this encounter between the two, as if depicting the passion that two lovers had, the endearing closeness between them, the energy of their parting, and resolve to meet again as their time together is just not done.
Viola Sonata No. 2 begins in a more playful style, with the conversation between the two instruments being pleasantly dance-like and evolving into more of a nightclub-feeling give-and-take between the two. This is music that is well suited to the Chamber Music concert hall - Mr. Bowen definitely had the gift of composition and his work here is balanced, pleasing, and captivating. The second movement is more somber (but not gloomy), suggesting a recounting of a painful life episode in a somewhat wistful way, as if a story was being told to what one hopes will evolve into a dear friendship. The third movement brings music that is jaunty and it seems that the previous relationship has indeed blossomed into a very special friendship. This is a really neat piece!
Also on the recording, sandwiched between the two Viola Sonatas, is Phantasy Op. 54. It is a delightful work that was Bowen's entry to a composition competition, and it definitely explores the abilities of the viola and its wonderful sound. This is disc was a musical discovery for me, and I have been finding it in my player ever more frequently since I got it. Highly Recommended.