Saturday, 29 October 2011

Sir Frederic Hymen Cowen:Concertstuck (1897)

If someone had suggested forty years ago that any work by Sir Frederic Hymen Cowen should be recorded as a part of a major series of piano concertos (and concerted works) they would have been laughed out of court. Cowen was even further down the list of ‘worthy but ultimately ‘boring’ English composers that included Stanford, Parry and Macfarren. In 1990, Marco Polo records broke this jinx by presenting The Butterfly Ball and the Scandinavian Symphony. A few years later the now defunct Classico label issued Symphony No.6 ‘The Idyllic’. Both CDs showcased a composer who was worthy of further exploration.
Interestingly the seventeen-year old Cowen wrote a Piano Concerto in A minor. Unfortunately, along with his first two symphonies the score has been lost. Some thirty years later, in 1897, he composed his Concertstück for the Polish pianist Paderewski. I think that this is a really impressive work that defies the listener (and critic) to explain why it has been lost to view for many years. One cannot help thinking that if this work had been by Liszt it would have been well established in the repertoire.

The music is written as one continuous movement, however there are clearly ‘marked’ sections, including a good cadenza. The heart of the work is the ‘tempo tranquillo’ that is beautifully written and is often touching. There are many gorgeous episodes throughout the work that exploits the soloist’s skill and with attractive and often sensitive orchestration. The end of the work builds up to an exiting ‘prestissimo’ before ‘the final dash to the end contains brilliant passagework which goes on and on as if neither side is willing to give up.’

This concerto can be heard on The Romantic Piano Concerto Volume 54 HYPERION CDA67837

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