Bowen: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Andrew Davis


Best known for his solo piano music, York Bowen wrote four symphonies. The Fourth remained unfinished; the Third is missing; the First, never performed in his lifetime, was only premiered in 2010, 108 years after it was composed; and the Second cannot have been heard more than a handful of times since its first performance in 1912. But with the current revival of interest in his works, Chandos must feel they’re marketable in the current climate. The three-movement Symphony No. 1 (1902) is the work of an 18-year-old, and proves to be one of those light, pithy, English first symphonies that avoids being overawed by symphonic tradition, like Cyril Scott’s First or Holst’s Cotswold Symphony.


Symphony No. 2 (1909) is a much more ambitious four-movement affair, with an underlying ‘motto’ theme, an almost impressionistic slow movement of delicate orchestral textures and a delightfully witty scherzo, whose sense of colour further highlights the influence of Debussy on Bowen. The outer movements take themselves more seriously. While neither work adds a great deal to the story of the British symphony, they are not negligible: they’re deftly written and inventive, and realised here in spirited, thoroughly sympathetic performances.
Calum MacDonald