This Naxos CD collects 4 chamber music compositions by Lennox Berkeley over a wide time span of his compositional career, although 3 of them cluster around a pretty tight period of time:
(a) Horn Trio, op. 44 (1944)
(b) Sonatina for flute and piano, op. 13 (1939)
(c) Sonata for viola and piano, op. 22 (1945)
(d) Quintet for flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn and piano, op. 90 (1975)
The Horn Trio featured no less than Dennis Brain as the horn player in the premiere. It’s the longest work on the album, with the 3rd movement “Tema and Variations” taking up over half the work’s length. Perhaps the work is a bit stretched out and feels a bit long for its material at times. No such concerns attend the Flute Sonatina and the Viola Sonata. Passages of the Flute Sonatina, which Berkeley originally wrote for recorder, sound almost like Poulenc in style, but with a subtler and drier wit and less overtly cheeky or snarky. By contrast, the Viola Sonata enters rather darker emotional territory, in its overall mood. The piano and wind quintet actually incorporates some serial elements, per Richard Whitehouse’s liner note, besides again featuring elements reminiscent of Poulenc. Even if you’re not technically versed in serial technique, some passages in the work have that kind of aura, if that makes sense. But Berkeley’s language throughout his life remained fundamentally tonal, as all these works show.
All of the performers on this record do an excellent job in their respective works. The disparate instrumental forces obviously call for a diverse battery of players, with pianist Raphael Terroni as the only perfomer common to all of them. Recording quality is good, clean and clear. While none of these recordings are first recordings, albums of Lennox Berkeley’s chamber works tend to be relatively infrequent, and understandably tend to be off British labels. This album offers an excellent and economical opportunity for those who want to try relatively unfamiliar British chamber music.