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Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Symphony No. 1 (1940) [30:59]
Symphony No. 2 (1956-57 rev. 1976) [1957 rev. 1976]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Norman Del Mar (1); Nicholas Braithwaite (2)
rec. 1975-76. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.249 [62:03]


 


As he grew older Berkeley became increasingly sophisticated. Hearing his excellent music of the 1930s and 1940s this trend was not always to the good. While orchestral textures became lucid and transparent the emotional rewards became more slender as the years passed - more ascetic than passionate. Elegance and lucidity are there in quantity as you may find them in the later works of Walter Piston but majesty and the power to move operate at a distance. This may be the way you like your music - or the way you like it at times - but be aware.

The First Symphony is from the second year of WWII. Its first two movements while full of incident are busy and their lyricism partakes of that of Rawsthorne rather than the more emotionally upholstered voices of the British musical renaissance. Only in the long searching lines of the Lento does one feel the undertow of tragedy. For the finale the composer returns to a neo-classical busy-ness of the type we know so well from the Serenade for Strings. It leaves little impression behind.

The Second Symphony was commissioned by the Feeney Trust for the CBSO. The premiere was conducted by Andrzej Panufnik during his brief tenure in Britain's second city. This symphony too suffers from a certain opacity of expression and despite his revising ministrations in the 1970s an occasional thickness of voicings, a ponderous gait. This leaden weighing down is lifted by rhythmic material particularly to the fore in the allegro vivace which here seems to go less than vivace. The third movement is again a Lento - untouched by the 1970s adjustments. This has a sombre majesty that is most impressive - listen to the glowering brass chorale at 2.10 onwards - redolent of Rubbra's Eleventh Symphony. Once again the finale is more athletic and celebratory though ending with the feel of a sinfonietta rather than a grand symphony.

The Third Symphony in a single movement is also on Lyrita and is a fine concentrated piece where emotion and style are in ideal equipoise.

These two Berkeley symphonies derive from Lyrita Recorded Edition LPs: SRCS-80 Berkeley Symphony No. 1 Op. 16; Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra Op. 30 (Beckett, McDonald - pianos/Del Mar, LPO) and SRCS-94 Berkeley Symphony No. 2 Op. 51; Piano Concerto in B flat Op. 29 (Wilde (piano) Braithwaite, LPO, NPO).

These are fine and handsomely recorded performances though I wonder whether things would have been better if a more winged mercurial approach had been evident in the second movement of the Second Symphony.

Rob Barnett

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