Six Preludes, Op.23
Three Pieces, Op.2
Sonata in A, Op.20
Three Mazurkas, Op.32/1
Improvisation on a Theme of Manuel de Falla, Op.55/2
Concert Study, Op.48/2
Margaret Fingerhut (piano)
Recorded in Potton Hall, Suffolk on 30 & 31 January 2003 (Lennox Berkeley) and 1 March 2004
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2005
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10247
Duration: 75 minutes
The ongoing Lennox and Michael Berkeley survey that Chandos has rendered as indispensable continues with this splendid issue focussing mainly on Lennox Berkeley’s piano music. The piano was his own instrument and his writing for it is idiomatic; typically all his music here is of clarity, warmth and impeccable craftsmanship.
The Six Preludes, from 1945, are jewels and reflect Berkeley’s interest in French music; the second piece is rather Ravelian and the third has a dash of Poulencian wit. But Berkeley is always his own man and each Prelude is imbued with something intrinsic and engaging and is sympathetically played by Margaret Fingerhut. Her intelligence is consistent. The Three Pieces is the earliest music here, from 1935, the central Berceuse being especially tender. Paysage celebrates “a redeemed France”, one of several commissions in 1944 to do so; it’s a reflective, gently optimistic work (unpublished during Berkeley’s lifetime) that is best heard in private. The second of the Opus 32 pieces, the two-minute Scherzo, is a whirligig of a creation, harmonically engaging and humorous. The Opus 32 collection is completed with three mazurkas, a deliberate tribute to Chopin, the first one from 1939 with its companions following for publication ten years later. Like Chopin, Berkeley has the knack of stretching the mazurka rhythm and creating elusive, fascinating and always-elegant miniatures. The Improvisation touches on Falla’s El amor brujo; it does indeed sound impromptu, save for the concision so subtly demonstrated by Berkeley, and the Concert Study, recorded for the first time, is a short, virtuoso work that melts at its midpoint into rapturous reverie.
Lennox Berkeley’s four-movement Sonata was written for Clifford Curzon who premiered it in 1946. This is a substantial and weighty work as befits the designation ‘sonata’. The opening movement is exploratory but always tightly argued, confidential and volatile (this is a wartime composition) but with contrasting lightness and lyricism. The scherzo is of sustained mobility and pianistic dexterity; music with an edge, too. The melancholic, lonely Adagio is controlled with feeling to its rather radiant conclusion, and the finale, which opens expansively with gestures discursive and pondering, is satisfyingly rigorous and optimistically concluded.
Michael Berkeley’s Strange Meeting (1974-78) is jointly dedicated to Malcolm Williamson, who premiered the first section, and to Howard Shelley, who introduced the work’s extension. Of course, the title alludes to Wilfred Owen’s World War I poem and, inevitably, brings Britten’s “War Requiem” to mind. One British soldier and one German meet after death … the first movement of this 15-minute work evokes an extraordinary darkness, strange indeed, a fathomless interior swept aside by rapid-fire figuration and brutal bass chords before more consolatory music lulls an uneasy conclusion. This is music of power, emotion and inventiveness given an impressive debut recording.
This excellent release is beautifully recorded – with presence and dynamism.