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Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Music for solo piano and piano duet

Six Preludes, Op. 23 (1945)
Sonata, Op. 20 (1941-45)
Five Short Pieces, Op. 4 (1934)
Sonatina for Four Hands, Op. 39 (1954) *
Theme and Variations for Four Hands, Op. 73 (1968) *
Palm Court Waltz for Four Hands, Op. 81 No. 2 (1971) *
Raphael Terroni, piano
Norman Beedie, piano *
Recorded at the Great Hall of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, 7th-8th April 1993.
BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS416CD [58.13]

 

It is a cause of some satisfaction that this exemplary disc of Lennox Berkeley's supremely worthwhile piano music is being re-promoted in his centenary year. It was originally awarded 3 stars in the ubiquitous Penguin Guide and included in the Gramophone Good CD Guide, as well as appearing in the annual Critics' Choice in Gramophone magazine. If you like the bittersweet compositions in this genre of Francis Poulenc and Samuel Barber then you will appreciate this without reservation. Less overtly British sounding than John Ireland and less romantic or folksy than Bax or Moeran, yet more immediately approachable than, say Leighton or Williamson, this music occupies a unique position in the 20th century canon. Raphael Terroni's performances of all the solo pieces are superb and he is ably supported by Norman Beedie in the duets.

The disc begins with the fairly conventional Six Preludes, written at the end of the Second World War, and also features the formative Five Short Pieces from a decade earlier. Neither works are ever less than exquisite and their simple time signature based titles belie their innate charm. As in the aforementioned Poulenc, a melodic lyricism is complemented by a certain quirkiness in some of the rhythms and there is certainly no lushness in evidence.

The Sonata, written over an extended period in the first half of the 1940s, is a much more ambitious and serious piece. I cannot imagine the performance here being easily surpassed, but both the Adagio and concluding Introduction and Allegro verge on the genius anyway, irrespective of performer (I can even imagine Keith Jarrett playing them!). Despite lasting well over twenty minutes, the work can be heard as an organic whole, and to these ears is as fine an example of Berkeley's muse as the best of his works for orchestra. I have a lot of time for Barber's equivalent piece and this is at least as good, if not quite as rich in pyrotechnics.

The four hand pieces are also a mixed bunch, in terms of their scope and vision, from the fairly formal Sonatina to the almost parodic Palm Court Waltz. If we stick with the Francophile comparisons, then I am perhaps reminded more here of a Milhaud like bravura rather than Poulenc or, as mentioned by the composer himself, Ravel. Whatever, Berkeley can more than hold his own in the company of these illustrious figures. This disc is quite rightly regarded as one of the British Music Society's triumphs and I urge all lovers of 20th century piano music to seek it out, I am convinced you will enjoy making its acquaintance.

Neil Horner

 

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