York Bowen String Quartets Charm and Delight

First off, if you’re a completist, rest easy. The manuscript for York Bowen’s first string quartet is lost, so this disc represents his total output in the genre.

The two surviving quartets were written within a year of each other, yet show a surprising amount of differences.

String Quartet No. 2 in D minor, Op. 41 is a somewhat breezy work, written somewhere between the English pastoral style of early Vaughan Williams and the languid style of late Ravel. By contrast, the Third String Quartet, Op. 46b is more solidly English in character. Further, it has a wistful quality to it, similar to that found in Bax.

While neither quartet represents the ultimate expression of the genre, both are well-constructed. Each unfolds in an orderly fashion, with charming melodies that keep the listener engaged.

York Bowen was but one of many English composers to enter the Cobbett Phantasy Competition, submitting a single-movement work that flow freely from one section to the other. Bowen’s is a little different, in that it’s for bass clarinet plus string quartet. The bass clarinet isn’t normally considered a solo instrument, but after hearing Bowen’s Phantasy, I wonder why not.

Bowen creates lines for the instrument that take advantage of its rich, mellow tone as well as its agility. A beautiful addition to the scant repertoire available to the instrument.

York Bowen; String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3; Phantasy-Quintet
Archaeus Quartet; Timothy Lines, bass clarinet


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