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Douglas Stevens’ fine survey reminds us of the stature of British composer Lennox Berkeley (1902-1989). Stevens has completed a doctorate on Berkeley’s music at the University of Bristol and is a composer himself, so brings plenty of insight to these performances. Few people may listen to both discs straight through in one sitting, but sampling enables the savouring of a multiplicity of jewels.

Berkeley studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and there is a distinct French aspect to some of this music: Ravel (the Preludes Op 23) and Poulenc are names that spring to mind. Bitonality, whether playful (the first of the Three Pieces Op 2, for example) or otherwise, is a notable part of Berkeley’s armoury. Not only does Stevens understand the melodic/harmonic processes of Berkeley’s music, he has the technique to follow through: the two Capriccios towards the end of the first disc (Op 2/3 and Op 95/2) are despatched with virtuoso aplomb.

The second disc contains some fascinating pieces: Spain meets Fauré in the Op 7 Impromptus, and while one can admire the craftsmanship of the Five Short Pieces, the Concert Studies offer effervescent music suavely played (the scampering third would make a perfect encore piece). On the other side of the coin comes the tendresse of Paysage.

This is a fabulous voyage through Berkeley’s piano music. The inquisitive listener may want to expand into other territories: the performance of the Third Symphony on Lyrita, conducted by the composer, for example. Other notable recordings of the piano works include Margaret Fingerhut on Chandos, Colin Horsley in selected pieces on Lyrita and Raphael Terroni on Naxos; intriguingly, there is even a smattering played by Cherkassky.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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