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Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Symphony No. 1 (1940) [30:59]
Symphony No. 2 (1956-57 rev. 1976) [1957 rev. 1976]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Norman Del Mar (1); Nicholas Braithwaite (2)
rec. 1975 and 1978 ADD
LYRITA SRCD.249 [62:03]

Berkeley’s First Symphony was completed in 1940 though the sketches went back to 1936. It has power and intensity with brass calls and march rhythms adding their own indissoluble rigour to the writing. Its first movement sonata form is tightly argued and highly successful. The second movement, a Francophile and rather lissom waltz, has a certain dapper quality that sets it apart and is rather intriguing. It effectively lightens the immediacy of the writing and prepares the ear for the slow movement. As so often in Berkeley this has a slightly fugitive, withdrawn quality. There’s plenty of space around the cor anglais’s mournfulness for this spirit of refraction and obscure loss to gather pace; in fact passages even manage to sound like very stripped-down Mahler. There’s a total and irrevocable change in the finale. The neo-classical high spirits are an almost ruthless shock though once again Berkeley manages to infiltrate moments of doubt into the centre of the movement; if the centre of emotive gravity is there then the surrounding material, it seems to be saying, is not necessarily to be taken at face value. But it certainly finishes in fine assertive style.
The Second Symphony was finished by 1957 but was revised in 1976 shortly before this recording was made. The stripped down lyricism is freighted and weighted by brass and the stentorian basses. Brittle percussive march rhythms may remind one of the 1940 symphony though here things are much terser and leaner in spirit and in texture as well.  This later work is weighted heavily in favour the first and third movements with the scherzo and finale acting as tighter, shorter cousins. The Scherzo for instance is zesty and classically orchestrated but very cleverly constructed.  Weight falls on the Lento, unrevised and standing as it did in 1957, where the writing for high strings is powerfully sustained and the occasional outbursts juddering in their immediacy but well calibrated in architectural terms. The finale, needless to say, is vibrant, colourful and essentially light-hearted.
Norman Del Mar and Nicholas Braithwaite are the heroes of the hour, energizing their orchestras in the idiom with flair and introspective intensity.
Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Rob Barnett and John France
Lyrita catalogue


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