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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
Bowen: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
Format: Audio CD|Change
Price:£13.18+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

on 8 April 2012
The music of York Bowen is fantastic. I've been a fan ever since 2008, when came across his 6th Piano Sonata (which I ended up playing as part of my University Music Degree). The First Symphony is not what I expected from York Bowen. If you know his piano music, you will be used to a rather individual harmonic style, with an obvious influence stemming from Prokofiev and Rachmaninov! So I was surprised, upon listening to Symphony Number 1, when I heard something more akin to Elgar. Perhaps I shouldn't have been that surprised since Bowen and Elgar were both English composers. Still, the First Symphony has some worthy and enjoyable moments although, as a fan of Bowen, I really was wanting a lot more. In this respect, the more I listen to the First Symphony, the more I come to believe that it was, to a certain extent, an exercise for Bowen in "How to write for Orchestra" (an exercise which he completes very well indeed!). But whatever he achieved in the First Symphony, it is eclipsed by that achieved in the Second Symphony. "Elgar" is now replaced with "Wagner" (slightly ironic since I am aware there is a lot of Wagner in Elgar's music!), and the change in musical content, as well as orchestral colouring, is huge. There is certainly more "Bowen" in the 2nd Symphony in that I hear more of his quirky, fun harmonies. The last movement is a particular favourite of mine - it has a wonderfully exciting ending! The recording of these two wonderful works is masterfully crafted and offers the best chance of Bowen's music being noticed and recognised and, hopefully, being "put out there" along side the composers whose music we now hear almost too much (eg do we -really- need to hear Fur Elise AGAIN?)!!

This CD is absolutely worth the money - I promise you won't be disappointed. Similarly, if you know anyone who loves the works of Elgar, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov or Wagner, this will make an excellent gift. I'd also highly recommend searching out Bowen's Piano Music (Recorded by Chandos, Played by Joop Celis).
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on 14 July 2014
Another excellent recording from Chandos. These symphonies, early works are well worth a look.
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on 23 January 2012
Chandos have long been the champions of under-represented British music, and they have done the job yet again with this recording of York Bowen's first two symphonies.
The BBC Philharmonic (under Sir Andrew Davis, one of my favourite conductors) rise to the occasion with an excellent recording that does justice to the music. On this hearing one has to wonder why so much of Bowen's music has been allowed to lapse into obscurity - if the rest is as good as this, then it certainly deserves to be heard.
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on 14 May 2011
"If modern life is ugly, then there is all the more reason why music should bring beauty into it" (York Bowen).

York Bowen (1884-1961) never sustained the success which came easily to him in his early years. A fellow pupil of Arnold Bax at the Royal Academy of Music, Bowen burst onto the British music scene in the early years of the twentieth century with numerous orchestral and concertante works including three piano concertos designed with his own keyboard prowess in mind (Bowen - Violin Concerto; Piano Concerto No 1,Bowen - Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 3; Symphonic Fantasia). Bold, melodically profuse and colourfully orchestrated, his music chimed in well with the opulence of pre-World War One tastes. However, from the 1920s onwards, he found himself increasingly neglected - he had forged his style and stuck resolutely to it for the remainder of his life: despite several more highly accomplished major works, including the gorgeous tone poem 'Eventide' (Heroic Elegy & Triumphal Epilogue), a fourth piano concerto (Bowen: Piano Concerto 3, 4. The Romantic Concerto - 46) and a highly effective Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra (York Bowen, Alan Bush, Havergal Brian - Cello Concertos) he came to be regarded as a musical dinosaur and a large number of his scores never found their way into print.

Symphony No.1 (1902), an attractive 'student' work in three movements, remained unperformed in its entirity until last year's English Music Festival and this present release is it's premiere recording - nothing ground-breaking here, but plenty to enjoy in Bowen's already-assured handling of symphonic structure. The composer is not making any statement here, but rather honing his craft.

Although written only seven years later, Symphony No.2 (1909, first performed 1912) is an entirely different matter: Bowen's musical voice has now fully developed, engagingly influenced by his affinity with the later-nineteeth century Russian school of composers. Bold, brassy statements, sweeping string melodies and glittering orchestration (especially in the kaleidoscopic Scherzo) mark this out as a real discovery: anybody with a liking for Glazunov will find much to enjoy in this work.

Chandos, Sir Andrew Davis and the BBC Philharmonic do Bowen proud with fully committed performances and a wide-ranging recording remarkable both for the characteristic luxurious sound which is a hallmark of this company, and the clarity with which orchestral textures can be discerned: this recording of Symphony No.2 far outstrips the pioneering (and now deleted) recording on the Classico label.

There is plenty more York Bowen to explore, especially the following later orchestral works - Somerset Suite (c.1940), Symphonic Suite (1942), Fantasy Overture on 'Tom Bowling', Op.115 (c.1945), Symphony No.3, Op.137 (1951), Three Pieces for String Orchestra, with Harp ad lib., Op. 140 (c.1951), Sinfonietta Concertante for Brass and Orchestra (1957) and Jig for Two Pianos and Orchestra. These manuscripts are held by a publisher in London.

Let's hope that it won't be long before further forays are made into the music of this richly-rewarding composer.
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on 27 May 2011
The music is excellently played and recorded. We owe a great debt to Chandos (and also Hyperion and Dutton among others) for letting us hear this kind of music, which does not deserve the neglect it has suffered. It is also good to have Sir Andrew Davis expertly advocating English music. He is a distinguished Elgarian, and with the sad loss of Richard Hickox and Vernon Handley we need someone of his stature to conduct works of this kind.

The music itself is not a great masterpiece. But then nor is a lot of music by composers who do regularly get a hearing. The First Symphony, in G major, is a highly accomplished student work. Bowen clearly had a gift for orchestration. This is particularly apparent in the slow movement, which has a long and wistful, but in truth not very distinctive, clarinet tune. The first movement has two quite memorable and contrasting themes, and the tripping finale is fine. When I first heard this work I wondered if Bowen had been a pupil of Stanford, because it inhabits the same world as Stanford's symphonies (in fact he wasn't). It is well worth hearing and stands repetition. The Second Symphony is in E minor and is just as assured, again with fine orchestration. Bowen's piano music seems to me to have some affinity with Rachmaninov, and that feeling applies to this work too. It might be argued that the themes are a bit overblown and bombastic, but the work hangs together as a true symphony and appeals to my ear much more than, say, the symphonies of Bax, with which it perhaps also has affinities.

I am glad to have this music on CD and give it a firm recommendation for any collector interested in English music of the early 20th century.
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on 18 February 2012
These 2 Symphonies are particularly interesting as they demonstrate the remarkable musical maturity that BOWEN achieved in a brief period of 7 years. Let's hope it won't be too long before the 3rd symphony is recorded and more of his orchestral output.
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