Berkeley: String Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Berkeley
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Berkeley
WORKS: String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Chilingirian Quartet; Thomas Carroll (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10364
Chandos’s series devoted to Lennox Berkeley and his son Michael has so far concentrated on their larger-scale works, but both composers composed substantial bodies of chamber music and this disc makes a welcome first exploration in that direction.

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The second of Lennox Berkeley’s three string quartets dates from 1940, though its lyricism, quick-wittedness and suavity express little of the ructions of its time. The Chilingirians, whose crisp ensemble and tonal richness is ideal for this music, play it with charm and energy.

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The two Michael Berkeley works recorded here – Abstract Mirror, premiered by the Chilingirians in 2002, and Magnetic Field (1995) – both express a dark intensity all their own, and reveal formal and developmental ingenuity and a richness of incident that pay repeated listening. Magnetic Field is the more experimental work, employing Ligeti-like micropolyphony and quartertones in what was designed as a tercentenary tribute to Purcell. Again the Chilingirians (joined in the string quintet Abstract Mirror by the young Welsh cellist Thomas Carroll) have the measure of the music, coping convincingly with Berkeley’s dynamic contrasts, dramatic gestures and rythmical complexities. Matthew Rye