Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Lord BERNERS (1883-1950)

Piano Music, Songs, Orchestral music. Recordings from the 1970s and 1940s
1 Polka (1941) Peter Dickinson, piano (2:30)
Lieder Album: 3 songs in the German Manner (1913-18) Meriel Dickinson, mezzo-soprano & Peter Dickinson, piano (4:23)
2 Du bist wie eine Blume
3 König Wiswamitra
4 Weihnachtslied
Fragments Psychologiques (1915) Peter Dickinson (6:35)
5 La Haine
6 Le Rire
7 Un Soupir
8 Dialogue between Tom Filuter and his Man, by Ned the Dog Stealer (1921) Bernard Dickerson, tenor & Richard Rodney Bennett, piano (1:17)
Three Songs (1920) (3:50) Meriel & Peter Dickinson
9 Lullaby
10 The Lady Visitor in the Pauper Ward
11 The Green-Eyed Monster
12 Le Poisson d'Or (1915) Susan Bradshaw, piano
13 Red Roses and Red Noses (c.1941) Meriel & Peter Dickinson
Trois Petites Marches Funèbres (1916) Susan Bradshaw (6:20)
14 For a Statesman
15 For a Canary
16 For a Rich Aunt
Trois Chansons (1920) Meriel & Peter Dickinson (4:15)
17 Romance
18 L'Etoile Filante
19 La Fiancée du Timbalier
Valses Bourgeoises (1919) Susan Bradshaw & Richard Rodney Bennett (7:30)
20 Valse Brillante
21 Valse Caprice
22 Strauss, Strauss et Straus
23 Dispute entre le Papillon et le Crapaud (c.1914) Susan Bradshaw (1:02)
Three Songs (1921) (Three Sea-Shanties) Bernard Dickerson & Richard Rodney Bennett (4:22)
24 The Rio Grande
25 A Long Time Ago
26 Theodore or The Pirate King
27 Come on Algernon (1944) Meriel & Peter Dickinson (2:47)
28 Fanfare (Composed for the Musicians' Benevolent Fund)
Kneller Hall Musicians/Captain H. E. Adkins (0:18)
29 Nicholas Nickleby - Incidental Music from the Ealing Studios Film Philharmonia Orchestra/Ernest Irving (8:49)
Introducing Nicholas & Madeline;
Kate at the Mantalinis;
Ralph Nickleby;
Miss La Creevy;
Kate & Frank;
Introducing Mr. Squeers;
The Cheeryble Brothers;
Death of Smike;
Mr. Crummles;
The Hampton Inn;
The Wedding

30 Les Sirènes - Ballet Music
Habanera - Farruca - Valse
Philharmonia Orchestra/Ernest Irving (8:52)
31 Les Sirènes - Prelude (3:36)
32 Les Sirènes - Mazurka (3:10)
33 Polka (2:25)

Lord Berners, piano
SYMPOSIUM 1278 [79:40]

Symposium discs are rather basically packaged and visually may even seem unfinished. Despite this their catalogue shows great inspiration filling desiderata with flair and more than mere competence. Their Holbrooke and Max Rostal CDs are well worth your attention as is the present offering.

These Berners tracks are all analogue originals with the first 28 tracks being stereo from 1977 (they were issued, I believe, on a Unicorn LP) and the remainder historic recordings. The rarest (and with the most friable sound) are the three tracks played by the composer who hums along with infectious pleasure.

The Fragments (of similar vintage and inspiration to Josef Holbrooke's Four Futurist Dances of 1913) are splintery and dissonant perhaps influenced by Ornstein's provocative London concerts. That 'cut glass' effect continues with the staccato grotesquerie of Poisson d'Or - a work highly regarded by Stravinsky (the dedicatee). The Dispute is deep in the same dissonant 'Badlands'. The Funeral Marches are dated 1916 and if the last one is ambivalent the other two are in touch with the slaughter of the times. They were premiered by Alfredo Casella whose own Pagine di Guerra (1915) convey the 'sounds' of the Great War as much as Joseph Holbrooke's Barrage (1918). The satirical Valses play with the genre as if it were a Rubik cube divertingly and maliciously twisting it this way and that.

The Filuter song with its unflinchingly Gallic piano part is light-hearted - a touch of Poulenc perhaps and this line continues with the Three German Songs from 1920 - a mix of starry romance, resentful class-war protest (foreshadowing Alan Bush) and revue. These songs would go well in a recital with those of Spoliansky, Britten, Hanns Eisler and Weill. Red Roses is Berners in archly guying mood with a sly smile playing over the sincerity and the sentimentality of the Viennese locale provided by the instrumental and vocal line. The Trois Chansons would fit just as happily into a sequence of mélodies as would the Lieder Album into a lieder recital. Both are idiomatic examples of a genre and add to each valuably. The 'sea song' had been established by various composers including Vaughan Williams, Ireland and Stanford. Berners' was having nothing of this and his three sea songs are wry and reek with asperity. I note that tracks 25 and 26 have been transposed. Algernon is rather like the Polka in being closer to music hall but Berners, you feel, is embracing, not attacking the genre.

Then the historic recordings. The fanfare from 1934 is sassy and cheeky - gone in just over half a minute. The Nickleby music (which should really have been separately banded) is lush and, it has to be said, rather conventional by the side of his work from the teens of the century. In fact some of it has the lushness typified by Korngold. It is superbly orchestrated. The stereo competition on EMI lacks the charm of this version. Les Sirènes is highly polished light music with greater sophistication than normally associated with the ballet. The music crackles with allusions to España, Caprice Péruvien, Rhapsodie Espagnole and La Valse.

Gavin Bryars and Philip Lane add to the enterprise with excellent notes. None of the sung texts are printed but the singing is quite clear.

My only real complaint is that if this is seen as a vacuum-sealed copy in a shop the interested browser will have no idea what pieces are on the disc. There are no details of the contents on front, back or sides. A little more thought is needed next time.

To end on a high note let's thank Symposium for a fine disc, with generously packed measure, and without a single dud performance. The disc ends as it began with the 1941 Polka. Peter Dickinson ushers it in and the composer, with cavalier aplomb, accents and accelerates his way through the same piece in the last track. Was that the composer slamming down the piano-lid at the end?

Rob Barnett

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