We should start by putting aside any ideas or expectations of what makes a contemporary composer. A not-unappreciative reviewer of a previous collection of David W. Bowerman�s work, A Fantasy Idyll (CHAMPS HILL CHRCD005) began his review by saying: �I think it�s fair to say that not a semi-quaver on this disc betrays the passing of the last hundred years and all the musical uproar contained therein�. That is a pretty accurate description, but it is beside the point. Some composers are not engaged in a race to be the most up-to-date, or modern, or even different. Nor necessarily profound or important. David W. Bowerman�s own unassuming notes to his works on this disc make clear that we should not take the music too solemnly (that�s not the same as not taking it seriously). Instead, we should enjoy it for what it has to offer.
In the first place this friendly, social music. The works are written, often, as a tribute or present for their performers (very distinguished performers, in some cases), both for them to enjoy and as a vehicle for them to show off their paces. And the works are often �about� music that both they and Bowerman like. Several of the pieces show Bowerman in dialogue with music that he loves � but this is no surreal or post-modern dialogue: the original pieces are not simply quoted, they are not distorted or defaced, and they are certainly treated entirely without irony. They act as a springboard for Bowerman�s imagination, but he wishes to evoke them, not outsoar them. It might seem a strange idea to pare Wagner�s Tristan und Isolde down to a violin and piano � though as it happens Franz Waxman did exactly that in 1946 for his score to the Hollywood film Humoresque. In contrasting and alternating the yearning theme of the Prelude with the theme of the Liebestod, Bowerman�s Isolde Fantasy � typically offered as a wedding gift � creates an effective little piece that raises a smile of recognition in both performer and listener.
What constitutes individuality for Bowerman is more apparent in the other violinpiano duo, the Fantasy on a Theme of Elgar. It might seem bold, or foolhardy, to put the opening gesture of Elgar�s Introduction and Allegro, a locus classicus for massed string sound, onto a single violin. But this, and Elgar�s following theme, survive with their identity intact, and their solidity as familiar musical ideas paradoxically seems to create a space in which Bowerman can assert his own agenda, extending them and sending them in new directions in order to create his piece.
His fondness for the term �Fantasy� concisely sums up this approach � the wellloved themes set him musing, the imagination seeing what else might be done with them. In one sense what he does is to create variations on the themes, though without compromising their identity. And his powers of variation, especially as displayed in the Theme and Variations for piano and the Fantasy on �Abide With Me� (�Eventide�) for string quartet, are considerable. If the music occasionally sounds Brahmsian � as it does � this simply confirms that Bowerman has learned extremely well from this great master of variation technique. His own technique is undeniably impressive.
What of Elegy and its avowed purpose? The struggle for the right to use perfect fifths as one likes was won more than a century ago. Brahms himself, in the manuscript called Oktaven und Quinten, gleefully collected examples of their expressive, satisfying and absolutely permissible use throughout recorded music history, from Palestrina to Bizet. Even professors of music had capitulated by around the time Bowerman was born. In this famous battle he is a latecomer on the side of the angels. It seems more relevant to note, and to savour, Elegy�s kinship with the piano works of John Ireland (himself greatly influenced by Brahms) and the way that Bowerman taps a similar vein of nature poetry. This is even more apparent in the beautiful Wild Brooks Suite for flute and piano, which evokes memories of Ireland�s Amberley Wildbrooks and also suggests the passing of time through the day as the river meanders through the landscape. I leave the best (perhaps) to last. Bowerman�s �Cello Sonata may sound like a number of older composers, but could have been written by none of them. Shapely, concise, vigorous, lyrical, witty, it says what it has to say and no more, with not a wasted note, but lingers long in the memory.
(c) 2010 by Malcolm MacDonald
01 Isolde Fantasy
Wagner is better known for his �big sound� and complex orchestrations. It is also true that he was a master of counterpoint and capable of overwhelming romance. These themes from Tristan and Isolde are some of his greatest, written here as a wedding gift to Diane Galvydyte (violin) and to Jamie, her fiancé. She is accompanied by the young Russian pianist, Anna Peletsis.
02 Theme & Variations
on an original hymn tune, written half a century ago. Its simplicity lends itself to the varying moods of the variations. Played here by the New Zealand pianist, Stephen De Pledge.
03 - 05 �Cello Sonata
A short sonata of three movements, inspired and written by the beach of the Hawksbill in Antigua, hopefully this piece reflects something of the beauty and calm of that idyllic corner of the world. Written for and dedicated to Bridget MacRae (�cello) and accompanied by Julian Milford (piano).
06 - 08 Wildbrooks Suite
Champs Hill is known for many things, but its view across The Amberly Wild Brooks towards the South Downs is superb. This picture has inspired composers and poets over the years, not least John Ireland, who spent his final years in nearby Washington. The winding River Arun is an essential part of this scene, with its wildlife and sense of mystery and calm. Played here by Daniel Pailthorpe (flute) and Julian Milford (piano).
This piece was written almost as a protest against some people who despise the use of consecutive fifths! Perhaps they are not as evil as some make out!Played by Julian Milford (piano).
10 Fantasy on a Theme of Elgar
Elgar�s music is never far from Champs Hill. Indeed, he wrote four of his greatest works just a mile or two away at Brinkwells, outside Fittleworth in West Sussex. The opening page of the score of his Introduction and Allegro is an orchestral favourite, rich in melody and mood; one had to go no further for the inspiration of this fantasy. In this piece, Ittai Shapira (for whom this work was written) catches some of its immortal themes. Accompanied by Julian Milford (piano).
11 - 14 Fantasy on �Abide With Me� (�Eventide�)
A string quartet. This much loved hymn is a national anthem, particularly at English F.A. football Cup Finals! Its words (by the 19th century hymn writer, The Rev. H.F. Lyte) have a unique poignancy and the quartet attempts to follow its theme....Abide with me, fast falls the e�entide followed by Where is death�s sting, where, grave, thy victory? concluding with I triumph still if thou abide with me! Played here by The Bronte Quartet.