About this Recording
8.572288 - BERKELEY, L.: Chamber Music - Horn Trio / Flute Sonatina / Viola Sonata / Piano Quintet (New London Chamber Ensemble)
English 

Lennox Berkeley (1903–1989)
Chamber Music

 

Sir Lennox Berkeley was born near Oxford on 12 May 1903. He studied at Gresham’s School, Holt, then read French and Philology at Merton College, Oxford. Graduating in 1926, he moved to Paris where, on the advice of Ravel, he studied with Nadia Boulanger. In 1928 he became a Roman Catholic, which was to have a profound bearing on his music in general and choral output in particular. During the Second World War, he worked as a programme planner for the BBC in London, and married Elizabeth Freda Bernstein in 1946. His eldest son, Michael, has achieved recognition as a composer in his own right.

From 1946–68 Lennox Berkeley was professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music, his pupils including Richard Rodney Bennett, William Mathias and Nicholas Maw. He was made CBE in 1957 and knighted in 1974. Other honours include the Papal Knighthood of St Gregory (1973), a doctorate from Oxford University and membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. During 1976–79 he was a professor at Keele University, and from 1977 to 1983 President of the Cheltenham Festival. His later years were marked by declining health and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, though he continued composing regularly through to his 75th year. Berkeley died in London on 26 December 1989.

Although his early years were marked by uncertainty over his stylistic direction, Berkeley amassed over a hundred works and contributed to almost every genre. His major compositions include four operas, four symphonies and several concertos, while his choral music [Naxos 8.557277] ranks among the most significant of the period. Central to his chamber music are the three string quartets that occur at regular intervals over his career [Naxos 8.570415], while his versatility in the genre is further confirmed by the works on this disc.

Chamber music featuring wind and strings held a particular attraction for Berkeley. His Horn Trio (1944) was commissioned by the pianist Colin Horsley and first performed by him, together with the horn-player Dennis Brain and the violinist Manoug Parikian. The first movement is launched with a combative theme in which horn and violin trade exchanges over lively piano writing. A second theme is more reticent, then elements of both are combined in the compact and resourceful development. This works its way to a restatement of the first theme, following which there is a more extended version of the second theme before both are recalled in the calm yet questioning coda. The second movement opens with a subdued theme that features violin and horn in their most pensive mood alongside a spare piano contribution. At length the musical activity increases as a brief but eloquent climax is reached, a more elaborate statement of the initial theme presaging the tranquil conclusion. The finale is a set of variations on the insouciantly Mozartian theme heard at the outset, its second half repeated in time-honoured Classical fashion. The first variation sees brusque interplay between the instruments, then the second features airy dialogue between the violin and the right hand of the piano. The third variation is a soliloquy for horn against a ‘walking’ piano accompaniment, with which the fourth contrasts in its lively repartee. The fifth variation starts as a reticent dialogue for horn and violin, taking on greater force with the piano’s entry, while the waltz-like sixth pursues an elegant three-way dialogue. The seventh variation is the emotional heart of the matter: horn and violin unfolding long-breathed melodic lines over a discreet piano ‘ground’, to which the eighth offers contrast with its energetic interplay. A hushed recollection of the theme brings the peremptory final chords.

Although the Sonatina (1939) was written for the recorder-player (and champion of ‘early music’) Carl Dolmetsch, who gave the première with the harpsichordist Christopher Wood, it can also be performed on flute and piano, in which guise its artless amalgam of neo-Baroque and neo-Classical traits has ensured its popularity. The first movement starts with an expressive yet anxious theme in which flute and piano are closely intertwined. A second theme offers rhythmic contrast, but it is the first theme that re-emerges for more elaborate treatment before the limpid coda. The second movement is a plaintive dialogue, the flute’s unbroken line of melody heard over a restrained piano accompaniment. The finale contrasts in its playful manner, the main theme evincing a quizzical humour sustained over the movement’s all-too-brief course.

The Viola Sonata (1945), given its first performance by the violist Watson Forbes and pianist Denise Lassimoine, is among the more sombre of Berkeley’s works from the period and perhaps reflects something of the times – the aftermath of the Second World War – in which it was written. The first movement begins with a moody theme for viola that assumes greater emotional intensity as it proceeds. Its hushed successor strikes a different kind of ambivalence, then the sustained and highly varied development combines them through to a reprise in which the themes are heard in reverse order. A lengthy coda develops them further on the way to a questioning close. The second movement centres on a lyrical theme shot through with keen and unaffected pathos, the music unfolding in an arc of intensifying expression to a brief climax before heading towards its inward conclusion. The finale provides immediate contrast with the trenchant rhythmic profile of its main theme, which persists through several subsidiary ideas to take the movement on to an energetic ending.

Commissioned by and first performed by Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Quintet for wind and piano (1975) is among the more extended chamber works from Berkeley’s later years, as well as witness to his interest in the subtle deployment of serial elements to enrich his musical vocabulary. The first movement begins with a thoughtful introduction in which each wind instrument appears in turn, evincing a harmonic astringency that carries over into the main movement. Here, the angular first theme is complemented by its more yielding successor, elements of both being combined in a sequence of leisurely exchanges where timbral contrast between the instruments is less significant than that of their overall combination. At length the slow introduction returns for a placid conclusion. The scherzo strikes a livelier note with its rhythmically unpredictable interplay between wind instruments over a similarly flexible piano accompaniment. There is a calmer interlude for horn and piano, but the initial mood duly returns to effect a brusque ending. The intermezzo continues the varied combining of wind instruments, given a secure rhythmic underpinning by the piano. A brief solo for the latter leads directly to the finale, initially as pensive but summoning up greater energy as the wind instruments emerge. At length, each of the four winds states an expressive version of the main theme; this mood prevailing through more restive music from horn and piano, yet without precluding a spirited dash to the close.


Richard Whitehouse

 

The world première recording of three newly discovered unaccompanied viola pieces, played by Morgan Goff, are available as a download through the Lennox Berkeley Society website (www.lennoxberkeley.org.uk).


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