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Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Sonatina for Violin and Piano Op.17 (1943) [13.14]
Five Short Pieces for Piano Op.4 (1937) [6.40]
Andantino for Cello and Piano Op.21 No.2a (1945) [2.56]
Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo (1939) [5.05]
Mazurka for Piano Op.101b (1982) [1.24]
Duo for Cello and Piano Op.81 No.1 (1971) [6.19]
Six Preludes for Piano Op.23 (1945) [11.45]
Concertino for Flute, Violin, Cello and Piano Op.49 (1955) [14.12]
Schirmer Ensemble
Recorded in South Melbourne Town Hall, except for the Mazurka and The Six Preludes which were recorded in Melba Hall, University of Melbourne, between 2000 and 2003
NAXOS 8.557324 [61.36]


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Berkeley’s chamber and solo piano music is an under-appreciated part of his output. Naxos has had the sensible idea of grouping together works spanning the early Five Short pieces to the slither of a Mazurka written in 1982, seven years before the composer’s death. Not only does it add some fine performances of under-recorded music but it also makes for varied listening, in which the ear never tires of Berkeley’s inventive sonorities.

The primary recording venue has rather an echo-y acoustic, with here and there a touch of ambient noise – this is South Melbourne Town Hall where the majority of the recordings were made – but that won’t impede enthusiasm for the performances to any appreciable degree. Certainly in the 1942 Violin Sonatina we can hear some bold and confidently etched writing in which Berkeley’s Lento picks up the reflective qualities that ended the opening Moderato. The slow movement is a kind of highly compact threnody with ascending piano writing; the effect, whilst different in terms of scale and melodic impress, is actually not unlike the similar movement in Ireland’s Second Violin Sonata of 1917. Puckish and light, the finale banishes care though even here there are moments of easeful lyricism. The Sellers-Vorster duo does well by it – nothing outsize.

The Five Short Pieces for Piano go back to 1936. The second has a dash of Poulenc and a tablespoon of promenading insouciance, whilst the fourth, an Andante lasting two minutes, is pastel shaded and rather hypnotic. The Andantino for Cello and Piano is a considerably later work than these early pieces – one of the virtues of this recital is that we shift forward and backwards through Berkeley’s compositional development – and a very warm work lasting barely three minutes. Berkeley wrote well for winds as the Three Pieces for Clarinet attest – and he can’t resist some baroque hints, with dotted figures, in the Lento. The late Mazurka has a Scottish accent and a salon style but a work of stronger character is the Duo for cello and pinao, a tightly argued piece with plenty of room for contrastive material – good opportunities as well for bowing colour and harmonic and melodic interest. It’s a real Duo as well, a meeting of equals – and at six minutes is an impressively concise and would make a welcome addition to the questing cellist’s recital repertoire.

The Six Preludes (1945) are ripplingly Francophile in orientation – the opening Allegro builds up a fair head of steam and the central Allegro Moderato is arresting, pert, and full of drama and capricious sweep. Which leaves the Concertino with its engaging brightness and catchy airiness to the fore in the first movement. The melancholy ground for flute and cello of the first Aria is followed by an even more overtly expressive one for violin and piano and both show Berkeley at his most lyrically concise. The finale receives a sappy reading here, bright and ebullient and sharply witty. It adds to the pleasures of this enjoyable and convincingly performed ensemble outing.

Jonathan Woolf






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