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Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Piano Concerto in B flat Op.29 (1947) [26:13]
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra Op.30 * (1948) [32:17]
David Wilde (piano)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
Garth Beckett, Boyd McDonald (pianos) *
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
rec. 1975 and 1978 (Concerto in B flat)
LYRITA SRCD.250 [58.33]



The Berkeley concertos sound especially vital in these thoroughly engaging and brilliantly engineered performances. If I fail sometimes in my Lyrita reviews to comment on the standard of the CD remastering let me just add here that it lacks for nothing and that the original tapes sound as well as one could possibly wish, given that they were superb in the first place.
 
The B flat concerto was written for Colin Horsley and its premiere came at a Prom in August 1948 when Basil Cameron conducted the LSO.  Certain qualities will strike the ear immediately – the clear, clean wind writing and the increasingly effusive Rachmaninovian hues that are generated. It’s a fully-fledged and highly successful Romantic concerto, eloquently extrovert, assured in supportive orchestration and allowing the soloist plenty of moments of drama and crunching chordal writing. As I listened to David Wilde’s tremendously impressive playing I did think of Horsley – a majestic player in his own right – but still more of Benno Moiseiwitsch. It would have been just his kind of contemporary concerto – full of romantic gesture and technical assurance. But note too the little “pop” tunes that Berkeley infiltrates in to the piano and high wind writing at the end of the first movement. 
 
Such writing for winds, agile, lyric, reappears in the slow movement where the lazy drift of the writing wanders between indolent reflection and a certain brass-activated assertion. The finale opens in rather frivolously style with a sportive Poulencian profile. The pawky and the dramatic writing meet in exciting and vibrant skirls and the whole thing is realised here with complete panache and perception.
 
The Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra was written a year later in a Henry Wood Concerts Society commission for Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith. Cast in two movements this time - with the second a Theme and Variations – it’s the longer work by some way.  It has moments of insouciant drama for the pianists but doesn’t neglect a bristly, brass led profile either. It’s a hard work to characterise – French models are undeniable, there’s something neo-classical about some elements, and there’s a strange feeling of displaced Martinů about other parts as well. The stentorian percussive punctuation points are certainly striking.
 
The second movement utilises Bobby Shaftoe and the hymn Westminster Abbey (adapted by Purcell). The opening string writing is luscious and finely sustained in this performance. Variation four, an andante, introduces a note of withdrawal and reflectiveness – the stasis eloquently drawn out through string figures. Variation six is almost Rawsthornian – listen to the flutter-tongue flute’s vehemence. The seventh is a waltz and the eleventh has a satisfying arch to it, romantic in feel and reminiscent of the Rachmaninovian writing of the earlier concerto. Regrettably the variations are not separately banded.
 
Berkeley holds the serious and the lighter sides of his musical nature in fine equipoise in these valuable, indeed laudable readings.
 
Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Rob Barnett and Gary Higginson 

Lyrita catalogue



 


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