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Fowke’s first piano teacher was Marjorie Withers. At seventeen he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London where he studied with Gordon Green (1905–1981), a pupil of Egon Petri. As winner of the National Federation of Music Societies Award, Fowke made his London début with a recital at the Wigmore Hall where he played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 31 No. 2 in D minor, Schumann’s Carnaval Op. 9, Bartók’s Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs and Liszt’s Mephisto-Waltz No. 1. Also in 1974 Fowke won joint second place at the BBC Piano Competition where first place was not awarded. This led to broadcasts on BBC radio in a performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini Op. 43 with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra and Bernard Keeffe.

In John Ireland’s centenary year Fowke made his Proms début with a televised performance of that composer’s Piano Concerto, where the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Simon Rattle. By this time Fowke’s career had really taken off with his London recitals gaining excellent reviews: ‘Mr Fowke sensitively shaped and delicately coloured Bach-Rachmaninov’s multiple lines with impressive dynamic and tonal insight.’ At the same recital, in October 1980, Fowke played Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35 where his ‘…interpretation was appropriately informed by a single expressive thrust. There was some splendid pianism here…’ Fowke resurrected the ‘Golden Age’ tradition by ending his recital with Arabesques on themes from An der schönen blauen Donau by Adolf Schulz-Evler which he ‘…threw off with a fine display of apparently careless rapture which in fact concealed an admirably stringent discipline’. Other recitals from the 1980s included a Liszt Sonata in B minor where ‘…the sheer speed at which he dispatched the final fugal section without loss of discipline… was surely record-breaking.’

Fowke made his United States début in San Diego where he played the Piano Concerto by Arthur Bliss with David Atherton conducting the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Fowke played in many European countries during the early 1980s and has performed in South Africa, South America, New Zealand and Canada.

A musician who has always been interested in the byways of the piano repertoire, Fowke has become associated with many British composers including Cyril Scott, Arnold Bax, Frederick Delius, Arthur Bliss, John Ireland, Gerald Finzi and Alun Hoddinott. In 1983 he gave the première of the Haydn Variations by John McCabe, a work dedicated to him; and among other premières he gave the first performance of Richard Bissill’s Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London. During the 1980s Fowke appeared regularly at the Proms and on BBC radio. When standing in at short notice for an indisposed Claudio Arrau at a Prom concert in 1983, he was summed up perfectly by Hilary Finch who wrote of him, ‘The co-existence of a high musical intellect with elegance, wit and unashamedly joyful showmanship, which marks out Mr Fowke among his own generation of pianists, has an unfailing alchemizing effect on those parts of the repertoire which will never be pure gold.’ This was describing his performance of the Burleske by Richard Strauss, and the Konzertstück by Weber which he played with ‘the most subtle panache’.

Fowke taught at the Royal Academy of Music in London until the early 1990s when he joined the faculty of Trinity College of Music. Since 2000 he has been pianist with the London Piano Quartet which had a residency at the Dartington International Summer School.

Fowke has recorded for many labels. His earliest recording, made in 1975, is of Saint-Saëns’s Le Carnaval des Animaux; the other piano is played by Peter Katin, with the Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Alexander Gibson. It is a fresh and bracing reading. In September 1980 Fowke was soloist in a recording for Unicorn-Kanchana of the Piano Concerto by Arthur Bliss with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and David Atherton: he became associated with this work, playing it often. One of Fowke’s best discs is Virtuoso Transcriptions for Piano on the CRD label. Recorded in 1981 this contains transcriptions by Rachmaninov, Busoni, Tausig, a wonderfully poetic performance of The Lark by Glinka transcribed by Balakirev, and one of the best modern recordings of Arabesques on themes from An der schönen blauen Donau by Adolf Schulz-Evler. The recording captures all of Fowke’s subtle tone colouring. In 1983 Fowke recorded the complete waltzes of Chopin, incorporating variants from three different editions. He often plays in the fashion of the pianists of the past, highlighting inner voices, making subtle changes on repeats and generally enjoying himself, and by doing so, giving delight to his listeners. In the mid-1980s Fowke recorded various concertos for EMI. With the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Wilfried Boettcher he recorded a big, romantic version of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23 as well as the rarely heard No. 3 in E flat Op. 75; whilst with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Yuri Temirkanov there is an excellent Rachmaninov disc of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op. 18 and the Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini Op. 43. Although again playing with great dramatic sweep, Fowke finds time to highlight details that are often missed.

From 1987 come Fowke’s vivid accounts of Chopin’s two mature piano sonatas. In both he displays drama, exciting climaxes and an overall sense of structure. The scherzos of each are played with lightness and an avoidance of inappropriately fast tempi. The following year he recorded both of Ravel’s piano concertos and his Valses nobles et sentimentales. He also appears as soloist in Gerald Finzi’s Grand Fantasia and Toccata for Piano and Orchestra Op. 38 with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Richard Hickox.

The 1990s saw Fowke as duo partner with horn player Michael Thompson in a recital disc for EMI; and for Unicorn-Kanchana he recorded the Piano Concerto by Frederick Delius with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Norman Del Mar. As his career turned more to teaching, adjudicating and giving classes, Fowke recorded less, but found time to make a disc for Chandos of piano music by Arthur Bliss which includes two première recordings. For Naxos Fowke has recorded the Sonata for Piano and Horn by Franz Danzi, again with Thompson; and a disc entitled Piano Concertos from the Movies where he plays works such as Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto and Hubert Bath’s Cornish Rhapsody.

Courtesy of Jonathan Summers

Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
Film and TV Music, Concerto
Best of British Light Music, Vol. 4 Naxos
Film and TV Music, Concerto, Film and TV Music
Film and TV Music, Concerto
DANZI: Wind Quintets, Op. 67, Nos. 1-3 Naxos
Chamber Music
DANZI: Wind Quintets, Op. 68, Nos. 1-3 / Horn Sonata, Op. 44 Naxos
Chamber Music
Concerto, Film and TV Music, Concerto
Warsaw Concerto and Other Piano Concertos from the Movies Naxos
Film and TV Music, Concerto, Film and TV Music, Concerto, Film and TV Music, Concerto

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