M. Berkeley Oboe Concerto; Pallis Nocturne

Author: 
Michael Oliver

M. Berkeley Oboe Concerto; Pallis Nocturne

  • Concerto for Oboe and Strings
  • Nocturne de l'ephémere

Michael Berkeley's Oboe Concerto, so the sleeve-note advises us, should be regarded as an ''early work'', dating as it does from the very beginning of his period of study with Richard Rodney Bennett, True, there are a few signs of earlyness: the first two movements both end half a minute or so later than they might have done, and there are one or two pages of heart-on-sleeve lushness that years and caution would perhaps have toned down. But both these are also symptoms of a delight in composing and at having found one's own fluent voice: having invented the ingratiating slow waltz that acts as interlude in the central scherzo (the strings swoon with rapture the moment it appears) who could resist bringing it back again, even if it does mean some faintly contrived juggling with the scherzo subject to provide the movement with a neat and orderly conclusion? It is a genuinely Berkeley tune, too, even if at this stage its roots can still be perceived (in his teacher—Bennett is a dab hand at waltzes, also—and in the more suavely lyrical side of Britten—such a melody as ''Gracieux fils de Pan'' in Les illuminations). And the heart-on-sleeve quality, though its burden of expression could once or twice have been more lightly carried, is honest emotion, whether that emotion be pleasure at writing for the plangent combination of oboe and strings (as in the first movement) or the sorrow that Berkeley felt at the death of Britten (his godfather), which is the subject of the final ''Elegy''. It is the direct emotion of the piece, indeed, never far below the surface even of its most charmingly elegant pages, that gives it its substance and saves it from the suspicion of being really a concertino in disguise. An attractive work, admirably performed, and well worth recording.
Marco Pallis's cantata makes a rather peculiar coupling. The composer is best known as a performer on the viol (he was a pupil and colleague of Arnold Dolmetsch) and the music of his own century has clearly not impressed him greatly. The vocal line veers between neo-Rameau and neo-Gluck, while the orchestral writing can be only approximately defined as lying somewhere between neo-Berlioz and neo-Warlock. It is a naive piece, forever stopping and wandering off again, in the same direction or another, as the fancy takes it, but it has a couple of pretty recurrent tunes and some touches of gentle pictorialism (the text, a poem in French by the composer's brother, fancifully meditates on the life of the mayfly, which never eats, rests or sleeps, but is born to love and to die). The work of a Sunday composer, no doubt, but it too communicates (if modestly) a real and fresh pleasure in music-making. It is not particularly well performed but the recording, as in the Berkeley, is quite adequate despite (on my copy) a rather heavy surface noise.'

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