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
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.
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
The Serenade Concertante
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
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in 1959 and since withdrawn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
as well as Webernian delicacy.