COMPOSERS: L Berkeley
ALBUM TITLE: L Berkeley – Ruth
PERFORMER: Jean Rigby, Mark Tucker, Yvonne Kenny, Claire Rutter, Roderick Williams; Joyful Company of Singers; City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10301
It’s easy to forget that Britten’s English Opera Group did more than just promote his own works. Berkeley alone wrote three chamber operas for it in the 1950s and ’60s, of which Ruth (1956) was the second, written at the end of an opera-writing spurt that had begun with Nelson
(1949-54) and continued with A Dinner Engagement (1954 – Chandos’s recording was reviewed last October). It is based on the Old Testament story of Ruth’s marriage to Boaz and with the deliberately antiquated language of its libretto (by Eric Crozier) and its set pieces Ruth sometimes feels more like a sacred cantata than a stage work. Berkeley’s ensemble of flutes, horn, percussion, piano and strings in turn lends the music a pastoral air and, particularly with a mezzo in the title role, a faint allusion to Holst’s Savitri.
Richard Hickox’s effective rep company of operatic singers brings its usual devotion and skill to the task in hand, with Jean Rigby a moving Ruth, Yvonne Kenny on fine form as her mother Naomi and Mark Tucker an ardent Boaz. The singing from the Joyful Company of Singers sometimes sounds a little rough round the edges, but the playing of the City of London Sinfonia – especially the strings – is exemplary. Although this is a premiere recording, a few cuts have been made to accommodate the work on to a single CD. Matthew Rye