Sinfonia concertante, Op.84 *
Symphony No.3 Michael Berkeley
Concerto for oboe and string orchestra *
Nicholas Daniel (oboe) *
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Recorded 27 & 28 October 2001 in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10022 Duration: 78 minutes Reviewed: January 2003
The Berkeley Edition 2
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Powerful and concentrated, Lennox Berkeleys Third Symphony says more in 15 minutes than a lot of works playing for much longer. As ever, the craftsmanship is impeccable. For all Berkeleys exterior control theres no doubting the symphonys vivid and sympathetic discourse, whether in taut rhythms, passionate declamation or long-lined melodies that breathe from purer climes. Its a great piece and good to have a second recording following the composers own on Lyrita. Comparisons arent necessary. That premiere recording has a particular stamp. Richard Hickox finds more phrasal possibilities in the violins figuration early on, while the composer remains a convincingly stoical guide to the build-up and release of the final section.
The composer was given a close, rather dry recording; Chandos provide something more recessed and spacious. This can be a little difficult to adjust to if the Lyrita taping is ingrained; so too some of Hickoxs balances. But the question really is why Berkeleys Third isnt standard repertoire? I only know for certain of Sir Charles Groves and André Previn conducting it. Written for the 1969 Cheltenham Festival, this is music demanding to be played and appreciated; when youve only got one view to hear, even if it is the composers, theres a real need for a fresh take; therefore, Hickox is very welcome.
The Sinfonia concertante is from 1973. Its outwardly cool exterior, and the chamber textures (with a substantive contribution for the piano), are a channel for some very moving invention the oboes first entry is unexpected and ravishes the senses as we are taken to personal places, ones we identify with, share, and take comfort from. This is particularly true of the slow movements, not least the haunting Aria. Following this haven of remembrance, the gently curving melody of the Canzonetta lightens the mood exquisitely and reminds of Berkeleys French sympathies. The more diverse Finale and second movement Allegro are the most soloistic Nicholas Daniel revels! This score with a rare economy but no diminution of susceptibility is to be treasured and returned to.
Lennox Berkeleys friendship with Benjamin Britten is musically testified to with shared references to the magical properties of music. Lennoxs son, Michael, continues the connection in his oboe concerto the last movement being In memoriam to his godfather. Lamenting and pained, with some Lutoslawskian clusters, the first movement of this nearly thirty-minute concerto (two slow ones enclosing a scherzo) has a faster middle, reminding of Shostakovich, with some very attractive pre- and post-cadenza rapture. A sprite dances through the Scherzo, one capable of turning to more pastoral piping in this very enjoyable movement. The spare and moving Britten tribute that follows is an openly expressed lament that gathers in consolation and intensity; the closing reference to Brittens War Requiem is ingenuously introduced. Daniel is a vibrant, eloquent soloist, with tonal resources covering trumpet to cor anglais, in these two works originally written for Janet Craxton.
Secret Garden, composed for the LSO and Colin Davis, begins with fanfares that have a sting in the tail, a sarcastic edge a metaphor for life turning sour? The garden teems with notes, varied character and many colours. After the maybe-too-extended proliferating fanfare, flute and harp, then oboe and snapping trumpets, snaking woodwinds and expansive strings establish the soundworld if not necessarily setting the course for the brilliant conclusion. Initial acquaintance with Secret Garden finds much aural enchantment countered by an uncertain handle on what seems a sectional structure.
Roll on Volume 3. Maybe Michaels Gregorian Variations and Lennoxs Dialogue for cello and orchestra will be given their first recordings!