Virtually throughout music history until at least the first decades of the 20th century, amateur composition flourished and was an enlivening part of the concert hall. Although many of its practitioners are now forgotten, its number include several great and acclaimed names. America has Charles Ives, the insurance salesman who composed most of his masterpieces in the first two decades of the twentieth century; nineteenth-century Russia had a particularly rich efflorescence of amateur composers including - just to name those who never made their living from composition - Mikhail Glinka (a nobleman of leisure) and Alexander Borodin (research chemist of international repute); and in England early in the twentieth century there was Lord Berners and, perhaps greatest of all, Edward Elgar, totally self-taught and essentially an amateur who 'made good' when he started making a living from his compositions from Enigma Variations onwards.
David Bowerman's work very much harks back to that fertile period of musical history. Although he has loved music all his life, it is only just over ten years ago that he started composing his own works. Born in 1936 in south England, Bowerman had a successful career as a farmer before retiring and moving to Champs Hill in West Sussex. There he and his wife, Mary, built a 160-seat concert hall and recording venue called The Music Room. Holding 25 concerts per year - hosting such artists as Felicity Lott, Ian Bostridge, Simon Keenlyside, Viktoria Mullova, Stephen Isserlis, the Nash Ensemble and the English Chamber Orchestra - it has also been the venue of several critically acclaimed and prize-winning recordings.
Although Bowerman's first love was always music, he received little or no formal training before he started composing. The results are remarkable for their technical savoir faire, most strikingly his idiomatic writing for instruments. Bowerman himself has written: "I unashamedly draw on music that has meant much to me; a love of the music of Elgar and the organ works of César Franck." His affinity with Elgar's music is perhaps hardly surprising, and it often serves as a starting point or springboard for his own compositions, such as Fantasy on a Theme of Elgar recorded in an earlier Champs Hill album. On this album we can see this again, whether directly using Elgar's famous themes - such as 'Nimrod' for Greater Love - or more elliptically as in his Cello Sonata 'Bedham Woods'. There are also other influences. As well as Franck, evident in some of Bowerman's more chromatic harmonies, one may note his clear admiration of Fauré - particularly evident in his setting of 'Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem' - and even the occasional hint of Wagner. In short, Bowerman's music is clearly rooted in the late-nineteenth century, and though his love of his sources sometimes means they are patently and unashamedly present and 'undigested' in his music - as was sometimes the case with Charles Ives or Francis Poulenc (another largely self-taught composer) - at its best Bowerman's music shows a truly original 'voice'.
Having himself been given a strict religious upbringing, several of Bowerman's works either evoke hymn tunes, or - as on this album - are actual religious works or settings of religious texts. Finest of these on this album are the Psalms of Ascent, unconventionally scored, and there are also several examples of works commissioned for liturgical use - witness the Four Canticles. Most interesting, though, are his non-religious works for chamber ensembles, of which there are two on this album. La Grenouille is a charming piece of musical fun, including the nursery song 'A Frog he would a wooing go', treated in quasi-fugato manner like a well-behaved Classical finale. Even more individual is Bedham Woods, a tribute to Elgar and the inspiration the early twentieth-century master took from the woodland next to the cottage he and his wife rented during World War I. That Bowerman also take inspiration from the land around his home - witness the quirky and very individual 'Autumn Fantasy' - is both a source of common ground with Elgar, and also, since Bowerman clearly has his own 'take' on the natural world, the source of his own individual voice.
La Grenouille was inspired by a favourite restaurant In New York, where, the composer tells us, "it is probably advisable to miss the frogs' legs and stick to Dover Sole (recommended)." Our amphibious hero, Bowerman suggests, "hops clumsily down the rocks and slides gracefully into the water, followed by his beloved, where they engage in aquatic love to their heart's content."
[The Sacconi Quartet; recorded at Champs Hill, July 2012]
Bedham Woods is a sonata for cello and piano. Bowerman writes: "Bedham Woods will mean little to those who are not passionate about Sir Edward Elgar's chamber music. As the First World War progressed, Elgar was not in good health and the inspiration to write had deserted him. So he and his wife rented a tiny cottage near Fittleworth in West Sussex. Brinkwells was to be their home for only a short while, but there, Elgar rediscovered his creative genius and wrote four of his greatest works. The cottage was on the edge of Bedham Woods where Elgar found a peace of mind that gave birth to some of his most sublime music." Those works of Elgar's were his String Quartet, Piano Quintet, Violin Sonata and, most famously, his Cello Concerto. It seems appropriate then that Bowerman pays tribute to Elgar and the woods which inspired him through the cello. Yet Bowerman here avoids obvious allusions to Elgar's work, instead creating a sonata remarkable in its stylistic coherence, which takes us from the sober yet engaging first movement to the quirky and genuinely charming finale.
I Moderato: 'Lonely Woods'
III Adagio: 'Bluebell Glade'
III Allegro: 'Wild life'
[Thomas Carroll (cello), Julian Milford (piano); recorded at Champs Hill, May 2013]
Autumn Fantasy is essentially a belated addition to the Three Seasons Fantasy, recorded in the earlier Champs Hill album A Fantasy Idyll, so completing the standard sequence of four seasons. Bowerman writes: "the so-called 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' is a somewhat romantic view of the English Autumn; it is more often a season of gales and blowing leaves. This fantasy describes the latter primarily but gives some regard to the quiet beauty that this season can present. It gives opportunity for the flute, oboe and piano to interplay and enjoy the prospect of a bracing wind as well as moments of mellow charm and peace."
Autumn Fantasy opens with a slightly chaotic passage of bitonality, suggesting the chaos of autumnal leaves being gusted by a wind. The piece also reinforces its relationship to the earlier fantasies by including a reference to a theme - somewhat reminiscent of the opening of Schumann's Rhenish Symphony - which appeared in Spring Fantasy.
[Daniel Pailthorpe (flute), Emily Pailthorpe (oboe), Julian Milford (piano); recorded at Champs Hill, May of 2013]
Psalms of Ascent are settings of seven out of the 15 Psalms so-named as they are thought to have been either sung by pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem, or by the priests as they ascended the 15 steps to Jerusalem's Temple. Written for the unusual combination of soprano, oboe and piano, Bowerman's settings to a degree recall Schubert's The Shepherd on the Rock for soprano, piano and obbligato clarinet, but also at times the artful simplicity of Holst's Four Songs for Voice and Violin. But, as so often with Bowerman, there is a wide range of stylistic references, ranging from the Fauré-esque 'Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem' (shades of 'La lune blanche' from the Frenchman's song cycle La bonne chanson) to the very Handelian 'I Was Glad' (something of 'Let the bright seraphim' here?).
1 I am for peace
2 I will lift up mine eyes
3 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem
4 Unto thee will I lift up mine eyes
5 I was glad
6 Except the Lord build the house
7 Children are a heritage
About the Four Canticles, composed for the more conventional forces of choir and organ, Bowerman writes: "A request by the Rogate Choral Society for a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis was a challenge readily accepted. The choir was invited to sing for choral evensong at Chichester Cathedral where these two anthems were performed [in 2011]. This was an enjoyable time, so two more were written, Jubilate Deo and Benedictus."
The recording was made at St Patrick's Church in Soho Square, London with its choir under their Organist and choirmaster, Stephan Bednarczyk. The choir was accompanied by organist Stuart Hutchinson, an Associate of The Royal Academy of Music.
Greater Love was originally written for The Royal Hospital Chelsea. Fittingly for a war memorial service, Bowerman prefaces his choral setting with the bugle call 'Sunset' (also known as the Retreat Call), played by trumpet to which Bowerman added organ accompaniment. The choral setting follows, setting words from the Gospel of St John often used as the text for war memorial services. Finally, the trumpet plays the opening phrase of 'Last Post'.
[Recorded at St Patrick's Church in Soho Square, Organist and choirmaster Stephan Bednarczyk with Hannah Bishop (trumpet)]
Thomas Carroll - cello
The Welsh born cellist Thomas Carroll was born in Swansea. Thomas studied with Melissa Phelps at the Yehudi Menuhin School and with Heinrich Schiff in Austria. An exceptionally gifted cellist, he is one of only two artists who auditioned successfully for both Young Concert Artists Trust in London and Young Concert Artists, Inc. in New York. He has gone on to perform as a concerto soloist with some of the finest orchestras in the world including the London Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra as well as working with a large range of top chamber music partners including the Belcea Quartet, Yehudi Menuhin, Ivry Gitlis, Gidon Kremer and many others.
Thomas is currently a Professor at the Royal College of Music in London and the Yehudi Menuhin School.
Julian Milford - piano
An English graduate of Oxford University, Julian Milford subsequently studied piano and piano accompaniment at the Curtis Institute and the Guildhall. He has worked as an accompanist and chamber musician with some of Britain's finest instrumentalists and singers, performing at major chamber music venues across Britain and Europe. Julian is the pianist and a founder member of the London Conchord Ensemble, a mixed chamber music ensemble founded in 2002 that has a busy performing schedule in venues including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, the Library of Congress, and the Wigmore Hall. Julian has recorded extensively for labels including Chandos, Hyperion, ASV, Black Box, Champs Hill Records and Orchid Classics
Daniel Pailthorpe - flute
One of the few orchestral principals of international standing who plays on a modern wooden flute, Daniel Pailthorpe has gained a world-wide following for the uniqueness and breadth of his sound as well as the warmth of his musicianship.
As co-principal flautist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Daniel is regularly heard on BBC Radio 3 and at the Proms. He has appeared as a soloist with the orchestra, toured with them to Australia and the Far East, and worked with conductors such as Byschkov, Slatkin, Belohlavek and Gergiev. He features prominently on the BBCTV 'Symphony' series and is a familiar face on the Last Night of the Proms.