Bowen was one of several young British composers around the beginning of the 20th century who came from a wealthy family and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He was both a pianist and composer and loved to show off his flashy virtuosity on the concert stage. His First Piano Concerto (on another Dutton CD) was written when he was only 19.
The London Philharmonic Society asked Bowen to premiere his Second Piano Concerto with them in 1906. It is in one movement, though with three tempo designations – the finale being the longest of the work. It is thoroughly Late-Romantic, almost Rachmaninoffian – though without any of the macabre tone or suffering of the Russian. The slow central section is by far the most expressively Romantic, and reminded me of Dream of Olwen, or the Warsaw Concerto. The finale is full of show-off piano passages, with the orchestra urging ever more spectacular displays of the keyboard. This is a full-stop, exhilarating concerto that should be on concert programs today in place of the endlessly-repeated warhorses.
The Third Concerto is quite similar to the Second in design and structure; though it is still rather light in character it seems to have a bit more depth and seriousness in some sections. The orchestra is kept more in the background and there are even some unaccompanied passages for the piano. The Symphonic Fantasia is subtitled A Tone Poem, though it doesn’t have any program connected with it. Bowen’s model here is clearly Richard Strauss – some portions sound almost lifted from the German composer. The lush work sports six movements, though it progresses thru them without any breaks. Each one is like a separate character piece, and some contrast wildly with the previous or next movement. All three of these works deserve listening and enjoyment. Dutton should be congratulated for making them available, and in such fine performances and sonics. In their modern recordings series they are – like fellow British label Hyperion – unearthing many worthwhile gems which were destined to repose on dusty shelves forever.
– John Sunier