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Sir Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Berkeley Conducts Berkeley

Mont Juic, Op. 9 (with Britten, 1937) [11’04]. Serenade for Strings, Op. 12 (1939) [13’19]. Divertimento in B flat, Op. 18 (1943) [18’46]. Partita, Op. 66 (1964-54) [12’38]. Sinfonia concertante, Op. 84 – Canzonettaa(1973) [2’58]. Symphony No. 3, Op. 74 (1969) [15’17]
aRoger Winfield (oboe).
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Lennox Berkeley
No rec. info. ADD
LYRITA RECORDED EDITION SRCD226 [73’57]

 

Berkeley’s Third Symphony is an impressive achievement. In concentrating his musical arguments into a mere fifteen-minute span, it shows Berkeley in effect flexing his compositional muscles. It is the crowning glory of this disc.

The work was premièred by the Orchestre National de la RTF under Jean Martinon in 1969 – and that conductor was rightly impressed by the work. This is unsurprising as there is an underlying nod towards French Impressionism within the confines of Berkeley’s prevailing dynamism. The writing is certainly grittier than the other works in the programme. The orchestration is fairly dense without being overcrowded. Berkeley conducts confidently, here as elsewhere, climaxes seeming logical outgrowths of the musical workings.

The orchestral suite Mont Juic holds an interesting story. The musical material comes from some Catalan folk music that Berkeley and Britten heard in a park called Mont Juic. Britten wrote down some of the tunes there and then. The two composers then collaborated on a four-movement suite, published as Berkeley’s Op. 9 and Britten’s Op. 12. Initially the two composers would not reveal who wrote what, but the booklet-note writer, Peter Dickinson, states that Berkeley told him that Britten wrote the last two movements. The full score is all in Britten’s hand. The Suite is delightful, full of interesting orchestration. The mood clouds for the third movement (one of Britten’s).

A recent Hyperion reissue on the Helios reissue label reminded me of Sir Lennox Berkeley’s sure compositional hand and his ability to delight in lighter music (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/Aug03/Berkeley_Centenary.htm). This was true for Berkeley’s two movements of Mont Juic; and more especially so for the Serenade for Strings, with its generally sunny demeanour. Berkeley chooses to end with a brief (four-minute) Lento which has the effect of deepening the experience.

The Divertimento is scored for small orchestra (two trumpets, two horns and a trombone make up the brass). The bright, light-footed ‘Prelude’ gives way to a darker ‘Nocturne’ (excellent woodwind contributions here). In fact both middle movements are fun, the whole rounded off by a light Rondo.

The Partita dates from twenty years later. Written for the Farnham Festival of School Music, it was first performed there on May 17th, 1965. Its four movements are: Prelude and Fugue; Aria 1; Aria 2; Rondo. An energetic, determined Prelude (slightly acidic in tone, with more than an element of the Neo-Classical) and Fugue lead to the two short Arias. The first, marked Andante, is dominated by ‘lazy’ wind solos (although it sounds too slow for Andante to me); the second, a Lento, is more serious in intent. The finale shows distinct traces of Stravinsky, both in terms of a certain acidity to the harmonic language and also in its rhythmic interest.

Finally comes the three-minute ‘Canzonetta’ from the Sinfonia concertante, Op. 84. A true piece of English pastoral tone-painting, the oboe solos are delightfully played by Roger Winfield.

The disc’s programme has evidently been very carefully considered - it works supremely well as a straight listen-through. The whole is superbly recorded in true Lyrita fashion – rich and warm, yet letting all the detail through.

Colin Clarke

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