A Lennox Berkeley Centenary Album – EMI

0 of 5 stars

Lennox Berkeley
Horn Trio, Op.44
Manoug Parikian (violin), Dennis Brain (horn) & Colin Horsley (piano)
Recorded in Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London, 15 & 16 June 1954

Six Preludes, Op.23
Colin Horsley (piano)
Studio No.3, Abbey Road, 13 July 1949

Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila
Pamela Bowden (contralto) / Collegium Musicum Londinii / John Minchinton
Studio No.1, Abbey Road, 17 & 18 March 1958

Three Greek Songs, Op.38
Five Poems by W H Auden, Op.58
Thomas Hemsley (baritone) & Ernest Lush (piano)
Studio No.3, Abbey Road, 15 January 1959

Polka, Op.5/1 (arr. Norman Lane)
Cyril Smith & Phyllis Sellick (two pianos, three hands)
Studio No.1, Abbey Road, 1967

I sing of a maiden *
The Lord is my shepherd **
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge / Sir David Willcocks * & Stephen Cleobury ** (Andrew Davis, organ *)
Recorded in the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, 1965 * & 1991

EMI 5851382


Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: October 2003
CD No: See below

A glance at the performers’ names – leaving aside the recording dates – is enough to indicate their historical provenance. Lennox Berkeley has never been generously served by recordings, and only now have some of his major works started to be more widely available, thanks largely to Chandos in the series coupling the music of father (Lennox) and son (Michael).

EMI has culled its archives for this vintage – in every sense – collection and it serves as a handy introduction to the more intimate aspects of Berkeley’s output, even if, in some instances, more recent performances and recordings would be ideal. Dennis Brain stamps his personality on the performance of the Horn Trio, with the piano and violin – the latter especially – being rather recessed.

This is an ingratiating piece, cast in three movements, the last of which is an ingenious set of variations, each of which is, helpfully, separately tracked on the disc. Interplay between instruments is the key feature, and even though the sound is rather horn-dominated, Parikian and Horsley are worthy partners, and their exchanges and ensemble enhance the appeal of the work.

Sadly, Colin Horsley’s set of the Six Preludes – the earliest recording included – is marred by a notably out of tune piano, and a certain effortful trait in the playing is not attractive.

The inimitable Kathleen Ferrier premiered the Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila, for contralto and strings, in 1948. Pamela Bowden brings her own redoubtable attributes to bear, not the least of which is an even quality throughout the vocal range, but there is a tension in the performance as a whole, and the papery strings – both as played and recorded – do not make the best impression for these settings, regarded by many as being one of Berkeley’s finest work.

A slightly stilted delivery marks Thomas Hemsley’s singing of the Three Greek Songs and the Auden Poems. Impressive though his impeccable diction unquestionably is, the elusive quality of the words and their special colouring are not conveyed with complete conviction. Ernest Lush accompanies sensitively, but the recording does not avoid distortion on some of Hemsley’s fiercer utterances.

Lighter fare is provided by a three-handed arrangement of the delightful Polka, reminding us that Berkeley was as adept at sly allusion as Walton or Britten. The two choral contributions are finely sung and atmospherically recorded, though thestarchy pronunciation of the 1965 King’s College Choir under Willcocks has a decidedly ’period’ feel about it.

Anniversaries of various kinds are potentially valuable for a composer’s reputation, and whilst, in the final analysis, not ideal, this centenary release may prove to be a useful introduction to the music of this still too little known and underrated figure.

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