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Piano Works By Lennox & Michael Berkeley / Fingerhut


Release Date: 10/19/2004 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10247   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Lennox BerkeleyMichael Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

CD not available: This title is currently only available as an MP3 download.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

This piano album is one of the less stylistically bipolar in a series combining music by Lennox Berkeley (1903–1989) and his son Michael (b. 1948). It focuses on a single, relatively early work by the younger composer, whose later music is decidedly acrid and often athematic. The first movement of Strange Meeting was written in 1974, and then expanded into a trilogy in 1978. Based on the poem of the same name by Wilfred Owen, the piece mirrors a succession of emotional states in which the hero, a dead British soldier, meets the now-deceased German who killed him at the front. (Owen is best known for his angrily bitter Dulce et decorum est, long a favorite of mine. He died at the selfsame front in 1918, a week before Armistice was declared.) Read more It is a lonely, raging, frequently brutal piece, that achieves a measure of final peace through emotional exhaustion and a recognition of mutual humanity. Michael Berkeley is perhaps most successful in reflecting the second movement’s depiction of war’s unadorned savagery, where the influences of Prokofiev and Bartók are felt. He is less effective in the oppressive first movement and the final movement, where Owen so beautifully captured a mood of uneasy stillness shadowed in grief.

No such reservations cloud my recommendations of Lennox Berkeley’s work. A favored pupil of Nadia Boulanger (at the age of 86 she journeyed to London, delivering a tribute on Berkeley’s 70th birthday), he was the single notably successful example of British neo-Classicism. Ravel and Fauré were his primary influences, and his music always possessed a casual elegance that never belied fastidious professionalism. Even in a work of such unpretentious origins as the Six Preludes (1945), composed for a BBC commission as program interludes, each of the short pieces (all but one under two minutes) reveals a subtlety and richness of craft. The simplest of material was treated by Berkeley with no less discernment and an ear for potential development than his symphonies and concertos, if with a due sense of proportion. As a result, these short piano works resemble modern Scarlatti sonatas, in that an apparently simple surface reveals upon closer inspection a complex and kaleidoscopic treatment. It is at the same time a pleasing and melodically accessible surface, but one whose thematic content never overstays its leave. The “Berceuse” from Three Pieces (1935) brings Fauré’s rare sensitivity and refinement to a piece of barely troubled serenity, while the “Capriccio” can only be described as pointed and rollicking. The Three Mazurkas (1939–1949), subtitled “Hommage à Frédéric Chopin,” owe little stylistically to their Polish dedicatee save for their basic rhythmic pattern and an occasional harmonic progression; otherwise, they are brilliant expositions in quickly shifting moods, achieved through an early 20th-century Gallic sensibility. Paysage (1944) takes us into emotionally deeper waters; fittingly, for this work was written to celebrate the liberation of France from Nazi/Vichy domination at the end of World War II. Typically, it is tenderly reflective rather than high-spirited or noble. Finally, the ambitious Piano Sonata (1941–1945) is a tautly argued four-movement work, more musically austere than other Berkeley works of a similar vintage, but filled with small beauties.

Fingerhut is technically up to handling this material. She is at her best in the more contemplative pieces, such as Paysage, where her exquisite sense of touch brings out a host of colors without over-peddling. The shorter, wittier works sometimes lack a certain Gallic drollery, a pointing of detail, that blunts their edge. In the Piano Sonata, Fingerhut gives us a wonderful Adagio, but lacks the exuberance necessary to fully bring off the Scherzo and portions of the finale. The tempos are right, but the accents want boldness, and dynamic contrasts are subdued. She refuses, in a phrase, to “take stage.”

Still, there’s no current competition in this music. Throw in a generous disc length and sound quality that’s clear, forward, and vivid, and you have a disc that is self-recommending. Fans of either Berkeley are likely to want this release.

Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Preludes (6) for Piano, Op. 23 by Lennox Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; England 
2.
Paysage by Lennox Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; England 
3.
Pieces (3) for Piano, Op. 2 by Lennox Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; England 
4.
Sonata for Piano in A major, Op. 20 by Lennox Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; England 
5.
Scherzo for Piano, Op. 32 no 2 by Lennox Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; England 
6.
Concert Study for Piano in E flat major, Op. 48 no 2 by Lennox Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955; England 
7.
Improvisation for Piano on a theme by Manuel de Falla, Op. 55 no 2 by Lennox Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; England 
8.
Strange Meeting by Michael Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1978; England 
9.
Mazurkas (3) for Piano, Op. 32 no 1 by Lennox Berkeley
Performer:  Margaret Fingerhut (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; England 

Sound Samples

6 Preludes, Op. 23: No. 1. Allegro
6 Preludes, Op. 23: No. 2. Andante
6 Preludes, Op. 23: No. 3. Allegro moderato
6 Preludes, Op. 23: No. 4. Allegretto
6 Preludes, Op. 23: No. 5. Allegro
6 Preludes, Op. 23: No. 6. Andante
3 Pieces, Op. 2: No. 1. Etude: Allegro moderato
3 Pieces, Op. 2: No. 2. Berceuse: Allegretto
3 Pieces, Op. 2: No. 3. Capriccio: Allegro
Paysage
Scherzo, Op. 32, No. 2
Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 20: I. Moderato - Poco meno mosso - Lento
Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 20: II. Presto
Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 20: III. Adagio
Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 20: IV. Introduction - Allegro - Tempo del introduzione - Allegro
3 Mazurkas, Op. 32, No. 1, "Hommage a Chopin": No. 1. Allegro
3 Mazurkas, Op. 32, No. 1, "Hommage a Chopin": No. 2. Allegretto
3 Mazurkas, Op. 32, No. 1, "Hommage a Chopin": No. 3. Allegro - Un poco meno vivo - Tempo I
Improvisation on a Theme of Manuel de Falla, Op. 55, No. 2
Concert Study, Op. 48, No. 2
Strange Meeting: I. quarter note = 54 [fairly free] - Calmo
Strange Meeting: II. quarter note = 84 - Maestoso - Animato - Un poco meno mosso - Presto -
Strange Meeting: III. Andante = quarter note = 56 - Adagio - Un poco piu mosso

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