L Berkeley; M Berkeley

COMPOSERS: L Berkeley; M Berkeley
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Berkeley
WORKS: Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra; Concerto for Orchestra (Seascapes); Gregorian Variations
PERFORMER: Kathryn Stott, Howard Shelley (piano); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10408
At its BBC Proms premiere in 2005, Michael Berkeley’s Concerto for Orchestra seemed powerful in its elegiac qualities (the slow movement is a threnody dedicated to Jane Attenborough, who died in the Boxing Day tsunami) but prosaic in its more forceful gestures. This studio recording brings more focus to the orchestral writing than the Albert Hall allowed, though the organcapped Maestoso climax still sounds trite. Gregorian Variations from 23 years earlier meets the challenge of writing a contemporary work that is ‘accessible to a lay audience at first hearing’ with a procession of vibrant ideas and with musical allusions from monastery to disco.

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Lennox Berkeley’s Concerto for Two Pianos of 1948 (the year of Michael’s birth, as it happens) is a two-movement work – a prelude followed by a set of enterprising variations in which Berkeley treats the two pianos as a single instrument. Kathryn Stott and Howard Shelley are the formidable exponents of this ‘super-piano’, while here and in the Michael Berkeley pieces Richard Hickox inspires incisive playing from the members of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The recording, from Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall, is among Chandos’s best. Matthew Rye