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Piano Works by Lennox and Michael Berkeley
Sir Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)

Six Preludes Op. 23 (1945)
Three Pieces Op. 2 (1935)
Paysage (1944)
Scherzo Op. 32 No. 2 (1949)
Sonata Op. 20 (1941-45)
Three Mazurkas Op. 32 No. 1 (1939-49)
Improvisation on a Theme of Manuel de Falla Op. 55 No. 2 (1960)
Concert Study Op. 48 No. 2 (1955)
Michael BERKELEY (b. 1948)

Strange Meeting (1974-78)
Margaret Fingerhut (piano)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, 30/31 January 2003 (Lennox Berkeley) 1 March 2004 (Michael Berkeley) DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10247 [75:08]


The ongoing Chandos Berkeley Edition has so far provided an invaluable survey of the larger-scale works of father and son, Lennox and Michael Berkeley. Here, in a disc that stands separate from that series, Chandos’s admirable dedication to the Berkeley cause turns to the piano music.

Interestingly, this is an area in which the two composers differ significantly. Lennox was an able and enthusiastic pianist and the works recorded here demonstrate a clear affinity with the instrument. Michael on the other hand does not profess to be confident at the keyboard and as of 2004 had only contributed two works to the solo piano repertoire in contrast to a substantial quantity of piano music by his father.

Other than Lennox’s own ability at the piano, another clue to his love of the instrument can be found in his enthusiasm for the music of Ravel and Chopin, two composers whose influence is evident in the works here recorded. Indeed, in the case of Ravel the French influence can be extended further. Berkeley was himself of partly French ancestry and one of his closest friends was Francois Poulenc. It is no surprise therefore that a Gallic sensibility informs much of Berkeley’s music, a stylistic trait that placed him in stark contrast to many of his English composer contemporaries. As if to prove the point, the brief but touching Paysage, was written in celebration of the liberation of France from the Nazis.

The most substantial Lennox Berkeley work here is unquestionably the wartime Sonata in A major, placed centrally in the running order amongst pieces by Berkeley senior that are generally more lightweight in comparison. Berkeley opted for an ambitious four-movement structure, which he conveys with typical panache. As is so often the case there is little literal thematic repetition, rather an organic and slowly evolving treatment of the melodic material that demonstrates a keenly intelligent and rigorous compositional mind at work. As with most of the pieces recorded, there is a specific dedicatee, in this case Clifford Curzon who gave the work its 1946 premiere. Margaret Fingerhut proves a fine latter-day advocate of a sonata that is one of the finest English examples of the medium for its period.

Less ambitious but no less attractive, the other examples of Lennox Berkeley’s work for the piano range from the early Three Pieces Opus 2 (the early Opus number belies the fact that he was thirty two when he wrote the pieces) to the Improvisation on a Theme of Manuel de Falla, written in 1960 as a contribution to an album celebrating the centenary of the publisher Chester. In the Six Preludes there are several passages that testify to the influence of Ravel (the oscillating opening conjures thoughts of Gaspard de la Nuit) whilst in the dreamy Andante that follows there is the faintest air of Satie in Gymnopédie mode. The Three Mazurkas are a direct homage to Chopin whilst the virtuosic Scherzo was written at the request of Colin Horsley for use as an encore to his performances of the Six Preludes on an antipodean concert tour. The Concert Study occupies similarly energetic and virtuosic territory, proving that Berkeley could deviate from his more naturally refined style when required.

Michael Berkeley’s Strange Meeting draws its inspiration from the poem of the same name by Wilfred Owen. The meeting of the title takes place between two soldiers, one British and one German, who are reunited in the afterworld following the death of the German at the hands of the Englishman. At over fifteen minutes the work is not insubstantial, Berkeley having expanded the piece into a triptych from the original stand-alone first movement in response to a commission from Howard Shelley. In its original form the first movement had been premiered in 1974 by fellow composer Malcolm Williamson. Michael Berkeley is clearly not as natural as his father in the fluency of his writing for the piano. However there are some effective passages, notably within the final panel, which slowly progresses towards an uneasy peace. For Michael Berkeley at his best, I would suggest that the larger-scale orchestral works and concertos are not only more representative of his latter stylistic idiom but also effectively demonstrate his ability to develop and control substantial formal structures.

Christopher Thomas


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