Piano Concerto in B flat, Op.29
Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila, Op.27
Howard Shelley (piano)
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (contralto)
Celia Craig (cor anglais) & Steven Burnard (viola)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Recorded 11 & 12 March 2004 in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2005
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10265
Duration: 71 minutes
Volume 5 of Chandos’s series devoted to the music of Lennox and Michael Berkeley begins with the former’s elegant Piano Concerto (completed in 1948), nimbly and thoughtfully played by Howard Shelley. Lennox Berkeley’s refined craftsmanship, surely by now, doesn’t require to be described in detail; in any case his delectable music speaks for itself. Time and again in this three-movement, 25-minute concerto the piano and orchestra integrate in the most lucid way. The first movement is something of a fantasia, the slow movement is beautifully simple in its rumination, and the lively, witty, rather French finale has a memorable melodic and rhythmic profile, a joyous and smiling conclusion.
At the other end of the CD is Michael Berkeley’s Tristessa, for cor anglais, viola and orchestra written in memory of his friend the author Angela Carter who died in 1992, aged 51. Tristessa is a 22-minute tone poem, the cor anglais and viola are obbligato soloists (a tantalising consort of sound), and this relatively recent work (first performed in 2003) is wholly compelling. Exotic harmonies are established from the outset within intertwining textures, the voices of cor anglais and viola prominent and expressive, and other instruments adding a poignant counterpoint. The luminosity of Berkeley’s scoring is a constant delight, and the pathos of this variegated piece is touching in this admirable, acutely balanced premiere recording.
The other two works on this CD are both for string orchestra. The 10-minute Gethsemane Fragment (also a recording premiere) is atmospheric and dramatic, and makes a foil to Lennox Berkeley’s St Teresa Poems, which set the original Spanish in translated English. This is superb music, intense, bucolic, hauntingly melodic and deeply felt. Written for Kathleen Ferrier, Catherine Wyn-Rogers is an ideal advocate; her sense of phrase (not least in the gently curvaceous second song, a gem) and scrupulous enunciation throughout add immeasurably to the emotional impact this music has, not least the heartfelt third song. Tempos are exceptionally well judged, and, once more, the BBC Welsh Orchestra and Richard Hickox prove wholly committed performers.