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Arthur BERGER (b. 1912)
The complete orchestral music

Ideas of Order (1952) [11:53]
Perspectives II (1985) [9:40]
Serenade Concertante (1944 rev. 1951) [10:52]
Prelude, Aria and Waltz (1982) [11:53]
Polyphony (1956) [13:18]
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose
rec. 2003. DDD
NEW WORLD RECORDS 80605-2 [63:57]

Berger numbered Piston, Milhaud and Boulanger among his professors. Much of his life has been taken up by written advocacy and music journalism. He has no inclination to self promotion or commission seeking. His catalogue of compositions is small and .this disc gives us all five of his orchestral scores- none longer than quarter of an hour. There are no symphonies here - economy of expression is the watchword.

Berger's music operates in the attenuated atmosphere at the boundaries of a Copland-like open air lyricism. This can be heard plainly in Ideas of Order which is rather like a dissection of Appalachian Spring done on the fly. Little stuttering figures suggest that Berger had been impressed with the Martinů symphonies that had made such an impact in US concert halls during the 1940s and 1950s. It ends explosive and emphatic. The piece was commissioned by Mitropoulos who is the dedicatee and the title is from Wallace Stevens' second book of poetry.

Polyphony (a title straight out of the Cowell primer) seethes with mild dissonance and with Stravinskian and Tippett-like rhythmic incursions. The music progresses into some fairly strange realms with enigmatic protests, rhythmic shrapnel (listen to the Beethovenian storming at 5.41), soured sighs from woodwind set loose in a shadowed despairing land. This is a very different world from Ideas of Order and has more in common with Perspectives II than its chronologically related brethren. Polyphony dates from 1956 and was premiered by Robert Whitney conducting the Louisville Orchestra.

The Serenade Concertante is another very succinct work in the Martinů classical mould but with a mite more chilli and a dash of open air Copland. If there is a criticism it is that piece ends rather than leaving us with any feeling that it needs to end at the point where Berger lay down his pen. It comes as no surprise to hear that it was premiered by Howard Hanson and the Rochester Symphony Orchestra (24 October 1945).

The triptych of Prelude, Aria and Waltz (originally written for full orchestra in 1945) has the lyric voice in the ascendant. It is eager-eyed and buoyant in the Prelude and final Waltz which smacks of early Tippett and of Martinů. The Aria is lissomly serious and calming.

By 1985 Perspectives II evinces a voice just as concerned with dissection but leaning well into Webern's delicacy and fragmentation of melody. Shards pass in modest procession. Originally this work formed the second movement of a Chamber Concerto written in 1959 and since withdrawn

All these works are played with brilliance and understanding.

Berger's music is that of a fastidious composer - both jewelled and precise whose works show, at different times, lyric sympathies (Copland and Martinů) as well as Webernian delicacy.

Rob Barnett

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