Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, January 2012

this piece is expert and highly idiomatic, and the central slow movement—always a special feature of any Berkeley work in sonata layout—is beautifully sustained. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Robert Matthew-Walker
International Record Review, January 2012

Berkeley’s First Quartet has some extraordinarily original features…The recording quality of this CD is particularly outstanding… © 2012 International Record Review

Penguin Guide, January 2009

One does not associate Lennox Berkeley with the quartet medium, but these three pieces are characteristic and powerful. The First Quartet comes from 1935 and shows a debt to Stravinsky and Bartók, as well as the composer’s strong Gallic sympathies. It was the year when Berkeley first got to know his friend, Benjamin Britten, whose influence is already reflected in the finale here. The Second is a wartime work, coming from the same period as the Divertimento and the First Symphony. It too has a certain astringency, as does the Third, composed in 1970, written in the immediate wake of the Third Symphony and notable for an ethereal slow movement, bringing an intense, emotional climax, resolved in the sharply rhythmic finale. The Maggini play these rewarding scores with great dedication: the contribution of Lorraine McAslan as leader is particularly impressive, especially in the lyrical slow movement of No. 1. The recording, made at Potton Hall, has clarity and presence.

Dan Davis, May 2008

Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) may be best known for his choral compositions, but he wrote in a wide variety of forms, winning a reputation as a superb craftsman if not as a strikingly individual voice. Influences include French music of his formative years, Stravinskian neo-classicism, and Britten, along with traces of jazz and Bartók. All of these surface to one degree or another in his three string quartets, written at different stages of his career (1935, 1941, and 1970). They're well worth hearing and exhibit refreshing energy and individuality, especially in performances as committed as those of the Maggini Quartet.

Family resemblances among Berkeley's quartets abound, with the last two tighter, more concise than the first, though the latter is full of inventive ideas. Outer movements are energetic, often with driving rhythms and unison statements that develop into passages of active counterpoint. Movements often end on a note of ambiguity, with elegiac or nostalgic codas finished off with a question mark.

Transitional passages test the performers; periods of rhythmic vigor morph into lushly Romantic statements, or more often, gently rocking melodies. Slow movements come off best: the Lento of the Third Quartet, for example, is an inward-looking piece whose ruminative cast is rudely punctuated by a more active central section, while the Andante of the First quartet is marked by an engagingly expressive melody over a walking bass line. Ghostly harmonics effectively set moods, as in the brooding ending of the First quartet's first movement.

The Maggini players' bright tone, passionate energy, and obvious sympathy with Berkeley's idiom make a strong case for these works. The engineering is a bit top-heavy, scanting the bass line, but otherwise it's well detailed. An attractive issue, exploring a neglected sector of Berkeley's work.

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, March 2008

This is a disc that I have long been awaiting, for I have known Berkeley’s string quartets from tapes of broadcasts for many long years and deplored that nobody seemed interested in recording them. True, the Second String Quartet was tackled fairly recently and released in one of the Berkeley père et fils discs issued by Chandos (CHAN 10364), but the other two remained ignored till now. They form an excellent coupling for they clearly demonstrate that Berkeley’s style progressed over the years while preserving typical hallmarks, most prominent among these being contrapuntal mastery, elegance and lucid musical argument.

Though an early work, the String Quartet No.1 Op.6 completed in 1935 is somewhat more advanced stylistically in that the music is indebted to the idiom of its time. Richard Whitehouse suggests “the presence of Bartók”, which may not be evident to all but which is certainly reflected in the rather more stringent, at times acerbic harmonies pervading the music. What comes clearly through, is the almost classical poise of much of the music - a typical Berkeley hallmark. Berkeley’s First Quartet is in four movements, with a short lively Scherzo placed third. The biting rhythms of the first movement are offset by a tender slow movement that has its sharper edges. The quicksilver Scherzo moves along at great speed and not without tension but it tiptoes away into silence. The concluding movement is a theme and six contrasting and substantial variations. The last of these provides a slow, elegiac close. The First Quartet is an ambitious, accomplished work in which Berkeley’s contrapuntal mastery is evident throughout. I find it entirely convincing and most rewarding.

The String Quartet No.2 Op.15, completed in 1941, shows how Berkeley progressed over the years. Influences have now been absorbed and the end result is pure Berkeley. The first movement displays a good deal of energy and the dialogue between the two strongly contrasted subjects is handled with considerable assurance and vigour. The beautiful slow movement contains some of the finest music that Berkeley ever penned and provides the perfect foil to the other movements’ energetic, athletic writing. The third movement opens with a nervous gesture suggesting a powerful release of energy; but, for all its boisterousness, the music carries an uneasy feeling that is hardly dispelled in the final coda. A magnificent work and one of his unquestionable and unquestioned masterpieces. There is not much to choose between the Maggini’s and the Chilingirian’s readings of this work. The Chilingirian are marginally quicker than the Maggini, and their reading has a greater urgency. Both ensembles play superbly and have the full measure of this marvellous work.

The String Quartet No.3 Op.76 was completed nearly thirty years after its predecessor, at the end of a decade in which Berkeley composed his opera Castaway Op.68 (I hope that Richard Hickox will soon record it), the large-scale Magnificat Op.71 for chorus and orchestra (a work crying out for recording) and the masterly Symphony No.3 Op.74, one of his greatest achievements only to be surpassed by the Symphony No.4 Op.94. At about that time, too, Berkeley, in much the same way as many other composers, toyed with twelve-tone music although he did so in a highly non-dogmatic personal way. In his last string quartet, Berkeley returned to a more traditional structure in four movements with a short nervous Scherzo placed second. Much as in the Second Quartet, the third movement Lento stands out as the emotional core. The final movement opens with forceful energy as if willing to dispel any possible ambiguity experienced in the course of the preceding movements. A brief recollection of the slow movement tends to belie any attempt at a clear resolution. This is then brushed aside by a restatement of the opening material rushing the movement to its somewhat dismissive conclusion. A beautiful product of Berkeley’s full maturity.

The Maggini, again, deserve full marks for their superb readings of these beautiful and hugely rewarding works. I do not know where we would be without them. This is a splendid release on all counts and my Bargain of the Month.

Martin Cotton
BBC Music Magazine, February 2008

View PDF  

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, February 2008

At last, these landmark works are on disc – in magnificent performances, too

The Maggini, fresh from their triumph with the Naxos Quartets of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, have turned their attention to Sir Lennox Berkeley, giving us all three of these landmarks in 20th-century British chamber music with the first recordings of Nos 1 and 3.

The First, the longest of the three, is a revelation. Virtually unknown, it has usually been regarded as just an early work from 1935. Nothing could be more wrong since it's teeming with ideas and ingenious string quartet textures. There are plenty of Berkeley fingerprints, such as the regular pulse of the second movement supporting diatonic melodies in counterpoint; the high spirits of the Scherzo (the popping of champagne corks at fashionable Cap Ferrat where it was composed?); and the final theme and variations, which anticipates examples later in the Two-Piano Concerto and the Violin and Piano Sonatina.

The Second(1942) has already been recorded by the Chilingirian in the admirable Chandos series devoted to both Berkeleys (7/06). Their performance is comparable and both groups obviously relish the idiomatic quartet writing. The eloquent slow movement in what the composer called free form is a fine example of Berkeley's completely individual melodic and harmonic style.

By the time of No 3 (1970) Berkeley was in his slightly tougher, final phase. But it is recognisably the same composer and his spiritual roots emerge in the connections between a simple setting of "Hail, Holy Queen" and the slow movement.

These performances are simply magnificent. Clean and immediate sound, perhaps slightly shrill. But the main thing is that at last these outstanding chamber works are available. A legacy comparable to Britten's? See what you think - at a bargain price.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2007

Lennox Berkeley was one of a group of English composers who worked around the mid-part of the 20th century, and though their music was much admired by the critics, it seldom received a similar response from concert promoters. In 1927 he went to live in Paris for five years as a pupil of Boulanger, and in a way this separated him at a crucial point in time from the nationalism that was sweeping through the UK. He was to become a prolific composer whose output included three symphonies, though much of his time was spent teaching at London's Royal Academy of Music where his pupils included Richard Rodney Bennett and Nicholas Maw. In the event he was already thirty by the time his first work was published, and that places the first of his three string quartets - completed in 1935 - among his early scores. The aggressive stance in the opening movement reflects the mood of new music that was appearing in Paris during his years there, the mix of atonality with melodic input quickly capturing attention. The following two movements soften the texture, the scherzo an athletic interplay between instruments. We return to the mood of the opening movement in those hyperactive sections of the finale that intermingle with moments of quiet reflection. Six years later, with the Second World War having already begun, we find a highly productive period in his life. There had been a marked change in style, atonality largely sidelined in favour of long flowing lines. There is passion in the opening Allegro moderato with wispy moments of tender beauty, sadness in the central Lento - the quartet being in three movements - possibly a reflection on the events of the world, while the opening of the finale is angular and fierce, the ending brusque and agitated. A further twenty-nine years were to elapse before the third and final quartet arrived, by which time it was again a very different Berkeley, atonality having largely taken over with elements of serial technique that he had previously rejected. There seems to be anger in the opening Allegro and also a sense of desolation that boils over in the long Lento burdened with sadness. There is a return to a happier mood at the beginning of the finale before anger returns and ends the score. The disc marks the Maggini Quartet's debut with their new and distinguished leader, Lorraine McAslan. The playing throughout is of superb quality, and I cannot think there will ever be performances that take us so close to the heart of the music.The recording quality is all you could hope for both in balance and in the reality.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group