Saturday, 11 September 2010

York Bowen: Toccata, Op.155 (1957)

York Bowen composed at least three important toccatas during his career. The first was a student work dating from 1901: the second was the ‘finale’ to his Third Piano Suite, Op38 which was composed in 1920. The final essay in this virtuosic form was written in 1957. The work was not published and was subsequently edited by Stephen Hough from the autograph score.
Lasting for some five minutes this work is exactly what one would imagine a toccata to be. Full of highly technical writing, it is well laid out for pianists allowing them at least half a chance of playing this demanding work. Jonathan Frank, in the programme notes for the Lyrita recording of York Bowen’s piano music has stated that ‘The Toccata might be described as the peak of Bowen’s virtuoso writing.’ He then notes that ‘incredibly subtle harmony abounds and in the ‘allegro furioso’ tempo is pursued relentlessly throughout, building up into an impressive climax at the finish.’
The composer gave the first performance broadcast performance in 5 December 1958 on the BBC Home Service He also played the Romance No. 1 in G flat, Op.35 No.1. The first public performance being at the Wigmore Hall in 13 June 1960 – the year before his death. Other works given at this recital included the Partita Op.156 (1960) and a selection the Preludes Op.102. Additionally he played eight Scarlatti sonatas, the Nocturne in B major and the Barcarolle by Chopin. Two other works were also given, the Whispering Willows by Greville Cooke and the Liebesleid by Kreisler-Rachmaninov.
At the time York Bowen would have been 76 years old. It is surely a tribute to his enduring keyboard technique that this work was a huge success at that recital. The Toccata is virtuosic and requires a massive piano technique. It would make a fine encore to a recital of York Bowen’s or anyone else’s piano music for that matter.

There are currently three versions of the Toccata, Op.155 available on CD.
York Bowen on Lyrita REAM 2105
Joop Celis on Chandos CHAN 10506
Stephen Hough on Hyperion CDA66838
The piece can also be heard in an excellent performance (and seen played) on YouTube


Rob Challinor said...

I agree that this is a marvellous piece of piano music. There is also a recording on the "5 Browns" debut album played by Gregory Brown - BMG 82876-66007-2

John France said...

Thanks for that, Rob


aston davis said...

Bowen's Partita Op.156 on the Lyrita CD was the big discovery for me. Great stuff. I play this work frequently and never tire of it.
And that YouTube performance of the Toccata Op.155 is a real barnburner!