L BERKELEY Chamber Works
This brilliant young ensemble, formed from members of the Southbank Sinfonia in 2008, made a strong impact in their debut recording (5/14). This release is just as polished and – featuring a single composer – better focused Lennox Berkeley’s chamber music is increasingly gaining international recognition: there are two German recordings of the immaculate String Trio (1943), which gets a fine performance here. The three performers are ideally balanced and their ensemble is impeccable. That also applies to the Sextet (1955) for clarinet, horn and string quartet, more involved with counterpoint than the Trio. Invention sparkles throughout. The Introduction and Allegro for double bass and piano is lumberingly effective and makes a valuable repertoire piece in an area not well served.
Then there are first recordings. Berkeley was famously dismissive about his early works – and wrong. He regularly lost them or just left them in Paris with his teacher, Nadia Boulanger, and got some of them back only after she died in 1979. The Sonatine for clarinet and piano was written in 1928, the second year of Berkeley’s studies in Paris. Boulanger must have been pleased with it since it shows complete command of what the two instruments can do separately and together. There’s a mature control of the discourse, its ebb and flow, and the slow movement is eloquent.
Finally, a few pièces d’occasion. A canon for string quartet In memoriam Igor Stravinsky, Pièce, another lively student work, and the unknown Three Pieces for solo viola were found in a second-hand bookshop in Camden a decade ago. Informative notes from Berkeley’s biographer Tony Scotland complete a fascinating release – well recorded too.