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Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Music for solo piano and piano duet
Six Preludes Op. 23 (1945) [10:06]
Sonata Op. 20 (1941-5) [22:46]
Five Short Pieces Op 4 (c. 1934) [5:52]
Sonatina for four hands Op. 39 (1954) [8:05]
Theme and Variations for four hands Op 73 (1968) [7:56]
Palm Court Waltz Op. 81 No. 2 for four hands (1971) [3:26]
Raphael Terroni (piano)
Norman Beedie (piano) (in four hand works)
rec. 7-8 April 1993, Great Hall, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London
NAXOS 8.571369 [58:11]

Lennox Berkeley’s piano music owes nothing to the main British composers who wrote for the piano during his time, who were Arnold Bax and John Ireland. It derives rather from French models, chiefly Poulenc but also with the occasional hint of Ravel. This is no doubt the result of his seven years’ study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. The result is that his piano music is beautifully crafted, with good tunes and piquant harmonies but also with a rather restricted emotional range. Here we have a good sample, supplemented by some of his piano duet works.

I expect most pianists have had a go at the Six Preludes Op. 23. They are most engaging pieces but, though intended for amateurs, are rather harder than they look or sound. The first begins like a junior version of Ravel’s Ondine, with its flickering chromatic blur and a melody which goes both below and above it. The second sounds as if it is going to be an update of Chopin’s E minor study but expands into a use of the three hand effect, very neatly executed here. The third suggests the Rigaudon from Ravel’s Tombeau du Couperin but becomes a real virtuoso study. The fourth is in slow triple time. The fifth, my favourite, is a kind of tinkling musical box in a rapid seven-eight, full of rhythmic excitement. The sixth is another slow piece, chromatic and songful.

The Sonata Op. 20 is Berkeley’s largest piano work and is in a sternly diatonic idiom which, for me, anticipates Tippett’s piano writing. The whole work develops from the opening motif of the first movement, the notes A, C sharp, A and E. This is elaborated and expounded with vigour. There is a lyrical second subject, an extensive development and a foreshortened recapitulation. The second movement is a Presto moto perpetuo. The third movement, Adagio,  is the most attractive, with a simple theme which expands lyrically and with a contrasting more chromatic middle section. The Finale begins with an Introduction which is like a summons to attention and then we have an Allegro rondo with several returns of the main theme before a close which echoes the opening.

The Five Short Pieces Op. 4 are really very short, each setting out an idea which is briefly elaborated. Perhaps the Moderato third piece is the most attractive with its melody overlying a regular pattern in the bass.

There are other solo piano works but the rest of the disc is given to piano four hand duets. The Sonatina Op. 39 is in three movements, the first beginning in a peremptory manner, the second lyrical and the finale featuring rapid movement. It is pleasant enough but rather inconsequential.

In contrast the Theme and Variations Op. 73 is full of invention and variety, with a distinctive theme and seven variations alternating between fast and slow. The final variation leads to a coda with the original theme. Piano duet players should explore this.

Finally, the Palm Court Waltz Op. 81 No. 2 is an arrangement of an orchestral work. It is not a straight waltz but rather a parody of one, which after a grandiose beginning tends to disintegrate as it goes on. If that sounds like Ravel’s La valse, then I think the echo is deliberate. It is played with gusto here.

Raphael Terroni is, or rather was, since he died in 2012, a fluent pianist with a thorough grasp of the idiom. In fact he also participated in a Naxos CD of Berkeley's chamber music. Norman Beedie who joins him in the duet works is a versatile musician who makes a good duet partner. I find the piano has been recorded rather too closely for my liking and the climaxes tend to glare, but the sound is acceptable. This disc was originally recorded and issued by the British Music Society in 1983. We should be grateful to Naxos for this and other reissues of British music from them and hope there will be more to come.

Stephen Barber



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