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Sir Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Symphony No. 4 (1977-78)
Michael BERKELEY (b. 1948)

The Garden of Earthly Delights (1998)
Cello Concerto (1983)
Alban Gerhardt (cello)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
Recorded Brangwyn Hall, Swansea; 17 and 18 December 2002 DDD
Berkeley Edition: Volume Three
CHANDOS CHAN 10080 [65:09]

 

Hot on the heels of Volume Two comes the third instalment of the Chandos Berkeley Edition. Into the bargain we get a further valuable recording, indeed a premiere recording, of another Lennox Berkeley symphony. Berkeley’s own somewhat understated comment that the Fourth Symphony is written in "a slightly more expansive manner" than is usual for the composer is all the more telling when one considers the increasing economy of his later style coupled with the concision of the one movement Third Symphony of nine years earlier. In comparison the Fourth is a fleshier three-movement affair that has at its heart a set of variations (a form of which Berkeley was both fond and a skilled exponent) juxtaposing elements of slow movement and more scherzo like material.

The opening movement begins in hushed mystery on solo bass clarinet before the Allegro proper is announced, reaching a brief yet melodically fulsome climax that returns later, often in varying guises, but never in exact repetition (a Berkeley trait). The subsequent development of the early material is followed by a final concluding flourish before the second movement commences with the theme of the central panel of variations. Announced by string quartet and subsequently taken up by the rest of the strings Berkeley then takes us through an initially twilit waltz, an agitated yet ebullient Allegro of contrapuntal energy, a slowly treading Lento that has something of the character of a funeral march rising to a climax before dying away again, a lively and rhythmically playful scherzo and a subdued, emotionally probing Adagio in conclusion. Principally marked Allegro, the final movement is centred around the interval of the third and subjects the opening rising motif to a variety of transformations before an emphatic if modest conclusion.

Michael Berkeley wrote The Garden of Earthly Delights for the National Youth Orchestra, who gave its premiere, under the direction of Mstislav Rostropovich at the 1998 Promenade Concerts. Unlike his father, Michael Berkeley does not shy away from orchestral gesture on a serious scale and the work draws its inspiration from the triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, utilising the antiphonal acoustics afforded by the Royal Albert Hall by placing soloists at different points around the performing space. Although the effect of this is largely lost on CD the music speaks clearly and powerfully with a number of thematic cross-references to the composer’s orchestral work Secret Garden of the previous year and included on Volume Two of the series.

The much earlier Cello Concerto of 1983 was written before Berkeley’s music took on a greater degree of astringency in its harmonic and melodic language, although the composer has undertaken a number of revisions of the work, notably in 1997 prior to a performance at the Presteigne Festival in Wales, but with further, smaller scale revision for this recording. Cast in one continuous but freely changing span, Alban Gerhardt gives a committed, technically impressive account and there is much to enjoy in Berkeley’s often-attractive melodic writing and vivid orchestration. That said, I cannot help but feel that it was not until Berkeley’s music went through its subsequent stylistic transformation that he really began to find his true voice.

As with the preceding two volumes of the series Chandos have captured the music in full throated sound, dynamically impressive and finely balanced by the engineers. Richard Hickox draws playing from the BBCNOW that stands comparison with the finest, all-adding up to a disc that should grace the collection of anyone with an interest in British music.

During a recent chance meeting with Michael Berkeley, the composer commented to me that there are further volumes in an advanced state of planning, with some material already in the can and the prospect of a new commission from Michael himself. Judging by the results so far, there should be much to still look forward to.

Christopher Thomas

 



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