Berkeley father and son, Sir Lennox (1903-1989) and Michael (born 1948), are handsomely represented on this Delphian release.
Sir Lennox’s Stabat Mater was composed at the request of Benjamin Britten for a tour that his English Opera Group was undertaking in 1948 and which included concert performances, although the composer himself directed the world premiere in the Zürich Tonhalle in August 1947, Britten conducing later accounts including the first in the UK. This is its first recording, something long overdue. As is well-known, the meditative Latin text (included in the booklet together with an English translation) concerns the suffering of Jesus Christ’s mother as she stands at the foot of the cross.
Berkeley’s setting is consummate in its illustration of the words, and his skilful use of six singers and twelve instrumentalists (including strings, woodwinds, horn, harp and percussion) brings variety without in anyway diverting the listener from the sad emotions expressed in the words; the music is heartfelt, sometimes severe, but always engrossing. David Wordsworth, a stalwart champion of Sir Lennox’s music, ensures that his dedicated eighteen performers give of their best and that this version of the Stabat Mater is given a distinguished first recording.
Lennox Berkeley’s Mass for Five Voices (1964) and his Judica me (1978) are both for a cappella choir, here respectively taken by five and six voices. The former, in five movements, is unadorned yet compelling in its hallowed expression and deep harmony and is of typically fine craftsmanship; whereas Judica me exudes communicative warmth that draws the listener in. (No opus numbers are detailed, although I had known it is 28 for the Stabat Mater.)
Michael Berkeley’s Touch Light (2005) looks back to the love duets to be found in the operas of Monteverdi and Purcell. His response is a rapturous one, richly expressive. The use of a soprano (Zoë Brookshaw), a countertenor (Rory McCleery) and a string quintet ravishes the senses. It’s a wonderful way to end an enlightening and enriching release, which is also excellent in terms of recording and presentation.