L Berkeley, M Berkeley: Symphony No. 3; Sinfonia concertante

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: L Berkeley,M Berkeley
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Sinfonia concertante
PERFORMER: Nicholas Daniel (oboe); BBC NO of Wales/Richard Hickox
Here’s a depressing thought for critics: the quality of a performance really can make a big difference to the apparent quality of a work. Lennox Berkeley’s own recording of his Third Symphony (Lyrita) is stodgy and lacklustre, and that, consequently, is how the work comes across. Even after Richard Hickox’s new version I’m not sure I’m ready to rank it with the best of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton or Tippett; but to hear it played with such energy and panache is to realise that it’s more than just another dead-end British semi-serial symphony. The Sinfonia concertante is, however, more consistently likeable. And then there’s Berkeley junior’s early Oboe Concerto, whose final Elegy in memory of Benjamin Britten (friend of Lennox and godfather to Michael) is one of his most convincing and moving achievements. The final references to the closing pages of Britten’s War Requiem could so easily have been corny and contrived; instead they’re handled with great delicacy and imagination. I’m still not sure that Secret Garden adds up to more than the sum of its undeniably interesting parts, but it’s good to hear it played and directed with such authority. Recordings are vintage Chandos – in other words, they’re about as good as it gets. Stephen Johnson