Chamber Works for Wind, Strings and Piano
Trio for flute/piccolo, oboe/cor anglais and piano (1935) [10:14]
String Trio Op.19 (1943) [15:28]
Sonatina for oboe and piano Op.61 (1962) [9:47]
Oboe Quartet Op.70 (1967) [14:30]
Suite for flute, oboe and string trio (1930) [15:03]
Tagore String Trio (Frances Mason (violin), Brian Schiele (viola),
James Halsey (cello)), Sarah Francis (oboe/cor anglais), Judith
Fitton (flute/piccolo), Michael Dussek (piano)
rec. St Silas Church, St Silas Place, Kentish Town NW5, 20-22 June
REGIS RRC1380 [66:22]
Any new CD of music by Lennox Berkeley is to be greatly welcomed.
However, this is doubly the case when two of the works are ‘World
Premiere Recordings’. This is a CD to be savoured rather than
consumed at a single sitting. Although it is not essential,
I would suggest listening to this disc in chronological order.
I have reviewed the works accordingly. The first two are premiere
The earliest piece on this CD is the acerbic Suite for Flute
(Piccolo) Oboe (Cor anglais), Violin, Viola and Cello. This
work was composed after four years of study with Nadia Boulanger
in Paris. Yet there is little of French sophistication about
it. The model would appear to be neo-baroque with nods to Stravinsky.
Six movements make up this considerable Suite. After a short
introduction, complete with the ‘dotted notes’ of a typical
French ‘Overture,’ a rather piquant ‘pastorale’ leads into a
stately and quite dissonant ‘galliard’. The ‘passepied’ is nonchalant
in comparison to the foregoing. I loved the ‘aria’, which anticipates
much of Berkeley’s later music: this is certainly the coolest
part of this work. The Suite concludes with an attractive, ‘breezy’
Chronologically, the next work to consider is the Trio for Flute,
Oboe and Piano. Peter Dickinson, in the liner notes has suggested
that this is the ‘main discovery’ of the present disc. The work
was composed in 1935 for the Sylvan Trio, who subsequently broadcast
the work in 1936 and continued to give numerous performances.
Although the Trio was revived for the composer’s 75th
birthday celebrations it was not issued as a commercial recording.
The Trio is presented in four brief movements. The opening ‘Prelude’
sets the scene with an attractive melody that is accompanied
by a florid, almost romantic, piano part. There is a subtle
balance between harsh and soft dissonances that inform this
musical texture of this movement. The following ‘allegro’ is
a rapid, almost compulsive little toccata. However the middle
eight’ has a lovely ‘cantabile’ oboe melody. Dickinson has suggested
that the Caribbean is not too far away from the more laid back
‘moderato’. Certainly this music is infused with the mood of
an afro-Cuban rumba which dominates the proceedings. However
the mood changes completely with the ensuing ‘fugue.’ Bach would
seem to be the model here rather than the dance-bands.
This is a major work that deserves to be in the repertoire.
It is unbelievable that it has taken some 77 years to be issued
as a recording.
The String Trio of 1943/44 is a neo-classical work. The first
movement is a ‘moderato’ written in sonata form. There is a
good contrast between the irregular rhythm of the second subject
and the ‘languid lyricism’ of the opening theme. The ‘adagio’
is the heart of the work; it is written in ternary form. This
is deeply-felt music that reflects wartime concerns and tragedies.
However, this mood is swept away by the final ‘allegro’ which
is a good old fashioned rondo. It is vibrant music that balances
‘rumbustiousness’ with episodes that are more serious in their
effect. The overall impression of the work is of a stylistic
tension between a Gallic influence and nods to Mozart. The Trio
is dedicated to Frederick Grinke, Watson Forbes and James Phillips.
The Oboe Sonata was composed for Janet Craxton and her brother,
the artist John Craxton. Peter Dickinson reminds us that the
work was premiered by Craxton and Alan Richardson at the Wigmore
Hall on 19 November 1962. As an aside, it is surely time that
the works of this accomplished composer (Richardson) and pianist
One feature of the Oboe Sonata is the use of a tone-row or series
in the opening movement. However, this constructional tool is
soon abandoned and the composer appears to resort to more traditional
methods of musical invention and formal design. The first movement
is a little gem. Two excellent themes are developed in a largely
sonata-form structure. One is flowing and the other languid.
The ‘andante’ display music that is profound beyond that expected
in a ‘sonatina.’ However the final allegro dispels any mood
of despair with exciting, cheerful music interspersed with more
My personal favourite work on this CD is the Oboe Quartet, which
is chronologically the latest on this CD. The work is quite
short, lasting some fifteen minutes. The structure is unusual
insofar as the final movement is an ‘andante’ with the ‘presto’
taking the place of a scherzo. The opening ‘moderato’ manages
to balance the reflective with considerable angst in a traditionally
thought out sonata form. The ‘andante’ is heartfelt and contrasts
totally with the incandescent middle movement. The music is
here songlike and manages to fade away to nothing.
The Oboe Quartet was commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary
Arts. The work was not formally dedicated to the well-known
oboist Janet Craxton, however it was written with her in mind
as the soloist. The work was given its premiere by the London
Oboe Quartet at the Wigmore Hall on 22 May 1968.
This is altogether an impressive CD that showcases the achievement
of Lennox Berkeley over a period of more than a third of a century.
It is a must for all enthusiasts of English chamber music.