Berkeley Chamber Works for Wind, Strings & Piano
Two world-premiere recordings top and tail this useful programme of chamber works by Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-89). The Trio for flute, oboe and piano of 1935 is a captivating curtain-raiser, its rumba-like third-movement Moderato (in which the wind instrumentalists switch to piccolo and cor anglais with delectably piquant results) boasting the catchiest tune imaginable. The sparky, neo-Stravinskian Suite for flute, oboe and string trio dates from five years earlier, its manuscript having been discovered among the posthumous papers of Berkeley’s beloved teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Like the Trio, it gets a spirited rendition, though the opening bars reveal some tuning issues which similarly tend to take the shine off the performance of the meaty and resourceful String Trio that Berkeley completed in 1943 for a distinguished line-up comprising Frederick Grinke, Watson Forbes and James Phillips (it was they who gave the premiere in August 1944 at London’s Wigmore Hall).
We’re also treated to two works written for the incomparable Janet Craxton (1929-82). In the Oboe Sonatina of 1962, Sarah Francis forms an idiomatic and communicative partnership with pianist Michael Dussek, while the present, thoroughly musical reading of the Oboe Quartet (a wonderfully civilised, cogent masterwork from 1967) makes a welcome supplement to the London Oboe Quartet’s pioneering Wigmore Hall account from May 1968 (a live document to cherish on Oboe Classics, 12/06, which shows Craxton at her outstandingly eloquent best).
Any small gripes aside, this remains a desirable collection, engineered with striking fidelity, and graced by detailed and illuminating annotations courtesy of Gramophone’s
Peter Dickinson. An enticing price tag, too!