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4.2 out of 5 stars
Bowen: Piano Concerto 3, 4. The Romantic Concerto - 46
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VINE VOICEon 27 December 2008
Hyperion have managed to `gazump' the ongoing Dutton series of York Bowen's music by releasing the world premiere recording of his Fourth piano concerto. This is coupled with the Third piano concerto (Fantasia), so may mean some duplication for those who already have the Dutton series: however, with such a worthwhile release as this, it won't be any great hardship to have a second performance of that concerto on disc.

Bowen himself regarded the fourth as his best work for piano and orchestra, and on the evidence of this performance we may take his own estimation at face value. The current revival of Bowen's music shows itself to be far more than merely a worthwhile exercise. Every new release shows that he was a musician of considerable interest and a composer of depth and stature.

This is a meaty and muscular concerto which has a compelling personality and a satisfying structure. It is a spacious work, but the melodic content more than justifies the 42 minute span of this piece. Though there is plenty of bravura writing for the soloist, none of it is overblown and Danny Driver- a former ROSL competition winner- plays with style and conviction.

The more concise Third Concerto similarly packs a pleasing punch.

The playing of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins again confirms what a winning combination this team really is.

Highly Recommended
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 July 2013
Thirty years separate the two pieces here -- the youthful third concerto, subtitled "Fantasia" is a one-movement piece clocking in at under 18 minutes, and the somber and ambitious fourth, in three movements, all roughly the same length, and totalling around 43 minutes. The longer piece is the one I'm interested in here. It was completed around 1937, but it inhabits an older sound-world, something closer to Rachmaninov than to Shostakovich, say. Two things are remarkable about it to me; expressively, it doesn't rely on vivid contrasts. The orchestral palette is pretty dark throughout, but what Bowen achieves is a sense of moving from something somber to something more affirmative by slow degrees, and without boring us in the process. He does this by deft manipulation of the orchestral texture, always varied and beautiful despite its dark ambience -- just listen to the cor anglais and viola opening of the second movement -- and very well caught here by Hyperion's engineers, in unobtrusively fine sound. The shifts in feeling within the movements are masterfully achieved, and here the leisurely pacing works to make the transitions both credible and natural. There's a lot for the pianist to do -- such lighter textures as there are in the piece are the soloist's business, and Danny Driver handles them beautifully -- the impressionistic falling water effects are unostentatiously played but never fail to make their effect, while at other times the soloist contributes to the darker colors of the piece. Never is virtuosity offered for its own sake, even in the difficult cadenza-like passages. Each movement sees a lightening of mood, and the ending recapitulates the opening, but with a subtly different affect. The composer Khaikosru Sorabji, Bowen's contemporary, and English despite the name, thought Bowen's Fourth the greatest piece for piano and orchestra composed by an Englishman. That's a bit more than faint praise, and he could be right.
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on 19 March 2009
There was a time when the only Bowen one could find on disc was his own mono-recorded selection for Lyrita: playing that was both elegant and honest. Now we have an expanding discography including concertante and orchestral music; piano, organ and chamber works, of which this concerto disc is a recent offering.

The high spirits of the third concerto are thrown out with perhaps greater panache than in the comparatively more measured reading by Michael Dussek for Dutton (try the moment in the Driver's finale where the rather oriental figure comes in and he pushes the tempo somewhat). Everything sparkles about Driver's playing and he is given a satisfyingly big Steinway D with great dynamic range and excellent support.

Bowen's language is recognizably his own, for his harmony is tinted with personal preferences which, although close to Ireland, Bax or the Russians, garnishes his pianism well. He was certainly the the nearest to an English Rachmaninoff as anyone actually got; as people keep stating in the sleeve notes and reviews to the recent recordings and there is no need to apologize for that label so long as everyone eventually desists. Others tried to be this phenomenon (Roger Sacheverell Coke or Gaze Cooper, for example - who they? I hear you ask); but Bowen had the pianism to serve his composition solidly, so the four piano concertos (all disgracefully still unpublished/unavailable as sheet music at the present time) do genuinely thrill and satisfy.

So here is the great contrast: a short sectional concerto with thrills and spills and a much later and indeed astonishing companion on the disc which is as long as any of the acknowledged "biggies" like the Brahms concertos or Tchaikovsky's Second. We really have to stop the "Rachmaninoff without the tunes" jibes when thnking about the many similar piano concertos on offer in Hyperion's long running series; there is just as much room for a hundred piano concertos in the intelligent listener's brain as for a hundred symphonies and there is no need for one to drop out of the repertoire before another can come into mainstream acceptance.

Listeners should approach the checkout having spied this Bowen disc, with confidence; go home with it and just enjoy the wonderful pianism Driver provides, the heaps of romantic melody and coruscating piano writing; and try NOT to sit there gloomily listing all the concertos one normally hears in the concert hall (the back of one hand will usually be large enough for that).
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 6 December 2012
This disc, recorded in 2007, forms part of the extensive survey of 'Romantic Piano Concertos' on Hyperion and is a very strong performance of these two concertos. Bowen wrote four piano concertos, the first two early on in his career and the fourth much later. The third is much shorter, in one movement, and more akin to a fantasia which is how it is also known.

Bowen was a gifted solo pianist and wrote these concertos with himself in mind. He considered his fourth concerto as being the finest of the set but has to wait until his 75th birthday tribute concert to play it. These two performances will inevitably cause doubling problems for collectors as they are differently coupled to the, as yet unfinished, cycle by Dussek on the Dutton label.

The third concerto is a lighter piece than the fourth concerto which is a much bigger concept and runs for some 43 minutes. Both pieces are generally lyrical in style and illustrate Bowen's refusal to change his composing style to become more avant garde at the time. Now that years have passed, as have many of the avant garde compositions and some composers of them, this consideration is no longer of great import.

Bowen was often described as the English Rachmaninov although this, to my mind, is neither accurate nor helpful to either composer. Although their are some basic similarities it would be wrong to hope for the memorable big tunes that mark Rachmaninov's compositional style. Bowen's music is enjoyable enough as a listening experience at the time of listening but is much more difficult to retain in the memory once they are finished. What remains is an appreciation of well-crafted music for both the piano and the orchestra that retains the interest during performance. As such it deserves its place in the series of Romantic concertos. The current performances are as good as can be hoped for and are both very well recorded. I have a preference of this third concerto over the one on the Dutton label finding it generally more lively and engaging. Either would suffice for collectors though.

I would suggest therefore that this is a good entry in the series and on that basis of some enjoyable interest. It is not in the class of a Brahms, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev or even Saint Saens as a memorable example of the overall period but if the program appeals purchasers should not be disappointed.
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on 10 March 2009
I've listened several times to this recording of Bowen's 4th pianoconcerto but I can't really understand why the fuzz and buzz around this recording comes from. It's called `a forgotten masterpiece', `a novel of orchestration and piano-writing' etc. but I found it very conventional. It's also very long so I tend to like Bowen's other concertos (1 and 2 are on Dutton Epoch) more. I don't know, it didn't grasp me. Somewhere else I read it was `just Rachmaninov', well was it so it was in the repertoire, I'm sure. You wait and wait for a big tune but it never comes. It's just a panoply of nice things, nicely orchestrated but no masterpiece at all. The way the orchestra and Danny Driver work their way through this piece is admirable, but just that. The recording doesn't help, it's very backwards and I disliked the dry thumb the bass-drum makes.
(Listened with Quad ESL63 and Marantz SA-7S1.)
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on 22 November 2008
This is disc full of wonderful music. Anyone who likes Bax, Bliss and Ireland shouldn't hesitate. The Fourth concerto is not unlike John Ireland's Piano Concerto, full of warmly romantic and wistful tunes. A wonderful discovery.
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VINE VOICEon 12 January 2009
It may just be that I don't like piano concerti sufficiently to appreciate this issue as well as I should. I am not sure. I mean I am very enthusiastic about the piano concerti of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann and, getting into the later romantic mode, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, the Grieg concerto and even the Saint-Saens Saint-Saëns: The Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra and Litolf concerti Litolff - Concertos Symphoniques 2 & 4 that can be found on this excellent Hyperion series. I even thought that the jibe "Great disc, superb pianism and wonderful recording: shame there was no music on it," about the Scharwenka Concerto 4 when it won the Gramophone Record of the Year some time ago was a little unfair.

Be that as it may, I cannot find myself more than lukewarmly interested in this Bowen issue. The 3rd Concerto is more tautly constructed than the 4th and I find the latter particularly full of all the right gestures and some interesting orchestration. But then I keep on waiting for it to start. I don't ordinarily like publishing negative reviews and am only doing so here in order to remark that I was disappointed by what I heard when compared to the almost unanimous chorus of praise in all the reviews I had read. I suggest that it would really be a good idea to try and hear some of this disc before buying it.
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