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Sir Lennox Berkeley's music is being widely performed this year (see the Centenary Year 2003 website).

Attended by Lady Berkeley, Sir Lennox's widow, this was a modest but memorable celebration, on the actual date of his birth, 12 May, of a composer whose large output of fastidiously crafted music holds a warm place in his countrymen's regard.

In later life he succumbed (as did Iris Murdoch) to Alzheimer's disease, but not before the gratification of seeing his son Michael become a recognised composer and prominent figure in the music world.

At the centenary concert, I had the pleasure of reminding Lady Berkeley that in the late '60s I had been invited to the Berkeley home in London's Little Venice for the composer to enjoy a recording of one of his de la Mare songs (about Poor Henry swallowing horrid medicine) which was included in my small son's LP anthology of 20 C. English song (Unicorn RHS 316) together with an appreciative note written by Lennox Berkeley.

Berkeley himself was represented in this centenary concert by a generous selection of nine of his songs, three de la Mare settings and one from Lorca, French songs dating back to his studies in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, and the Three Greek Songs.

Phillida Bannister is a real contralto so, with Morgan Goff's sweet-toned Daniel Parker viola, it made for a mellow evening.

Morgan Goff, a versatile violist who gave the first performance of Luis de Pablo's Monologo at the Huddersfield Festival, played Berkeley's Viola Sonata with impressive control and impeccable intonation. He was perhaps too deferential supporting Phillida Bannister in the Brahms Op 91 songs with viola, but his unshowy manner is appropriate for the sonata, one of Berkeley's finest duo compositions. Berkeley was inclined to subtlety and reticence and shied away from the more flamboyant approach which makes for easier, if not always enduring, fame. So a group of songs by Fauré was well chosen for their similar qualities.

Berkeley's piano music was represented by the popular Six Preludes, but Raphael Terroni (Head of Keyboard studies at the London College of Music and Media) had to battle against the St Giles piano, and too the over resonant church acoustics which ensured that, in the songs, most of the words (not printed in the programme) were lost, so one attended instead to Phillida Bannister's pleasing phrasing of the melodic lines, a not infrequent circumstance in vocal performances.

Matching music to venue is important to get more people out to appreciate live music. A pity that this inadequately advertised concert was not located in the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, (next door to both St Giles and the Barbican Music Library, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary in the same event). There it might have attracted some students to swell the audience?

Berkeley's piano music can be better enjoyed as it would have sounded there, recorded in the more suitably dry acoustic of the Guildhall School's Large Hall, on a crisp and clear CD of music for solo piano and piano duet (BMS 416). In Stephen Coles' recording for BMS you can savour every note and harmonic progression.

Music for Piano Solo and Piano Duet:
played by Raphael Terroni & Norman Beedie

Six Preludes Op.23 (1945)
Sonata Op 20 (1941-45)
Five Short Pieces Op.4 (1934)

Sonatina for four hands Op.39 (1954)
Theme and Variations for four hands Op.73 (1968)
Palm Court Waltz for four hands Op.81 No.2 (1971)




© Peter Grahame Woolf