Kenneth Bowen - Mae Hiraeth yn y Môr
It is a collection of Welsh songs taken from the early recordings of Kenneth Bowen, and was presented to him as a surprise during a farewell concert with the London Welsh Chorale on July 26th.
When I studied singing with Kenneth Bowen at the Royal Academy of Music in the early ’90s, he’d already been retired as a singer for a few years. So it’s a real pleasure to hear these recordings, made in his prime and way before I started singing myself as a chorister in Bangor. My first album featured Dilys Elwyn-Edwards’ ‘Caneuon y tri aderyn’ – so it’s fantastic to hear Ken singing them here. Dilys wrote these lovely songs for him back in 1961, and especially in ‘Mae Hiraeth yn y Môr’, I think you can hear a song perfectly suited to the soaring warmth of his voice. Aled Jones
KENNETH BOWEN – a personal biographical note by his son, Meurig Bowen
Technology provides us with unexpected ways of connecting with the past. The ability to convert analogue to digital has allowed me, in recent years, to bring previously unheard recordings of my father back to life for example, a searing account of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius – bootlegged by my mother onto ¼” Tape off a BBC broadcast of a 1966 Royal Albert Hall prom, with Malcolm Sargent conducting. Or there was the fascinating LP made two years later of Monteverdi madrigals.
For a concert and opera singer as busy as my father was throughout the 1960s and 70s, a relatively small number of commercial recordings came his way. He did make four LPs of Welsh songs however, during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and it is a selection from these that appears on this CD.
The earliest, entitled Young Wales Sings and released on the FONTANA label in 1968, was an album of hymns and folksongs. The second was a recital disc for WREN, with composer Mansel Thomas as pianist. It featured, notably, Dilys Elwyn Edwards’ already- and justly- admired song Mae Hiraeth yn y Môr, which my father had premiered almost a decade previously in a recital for the BBC. All three of her Canueon y Tri Aderyn appeared on a subsequent ARGO recital disc, released in 1974. The fourth LP appeared in the1980’s, an autumnal period both for vinyl and for my father’s singing career (he retired in 1987 at the age of 55). 2…
Other re-issues on CD reflect the breadth of repertoire that my father’s effortlessly high, distinctive voice covered – Vivaldi and Schubert masses with the Choir of St John’s College Cambridge, where he was a choral scholar in the mid-1950s, operas by Britten and Tippett, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder and Jakobsleiter with Boulez, Messiah with Stokowski and the London Symphony Orchestra. But it is this Welsh repertoire, I think, that captures the warm spirit of his musical personality best of all, and which allows his voice to soar most freely.
He has not lived in Wales for over half a century, after leaving his Llanelli home and a first degree at Aberystwyth initially for Cambridge, and then London. But his Welshness remains proudly ingrained in his 77th year. He was as proud to have been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Wales at Bangor, in 2003 as he was to have sung at the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. And as both a teacher of singing and a conductor, he has contributed in broader ways to the London Welsh musical life. His professorship at the Royal Academy of Music for over 30 years made him the choice of many Welsh singers furthering their studies in the capital, bass-baritone Neal Davies and Aled Jones being two of his one-time charges. This year, he steps down as the London Welsh Chorale’s conductor, having led them for 25 years in hugely spirited, musical performances.
I am aware that a son’s words may be regarded as overly subjective and partisan, but I hope this recording will be enjoyed for what I believe – objectively – it is: some damn fine singing, robust, sensitive, thrilling, sincere and from a warm Welsh heart.
Meurig Bowen 2008
Meurig Bowen is a writer on music, and Director of the Cheltenham Music Festival