The Six Preludes are perhaps some of the most performed and recorded works in the Berkeley catalogue. I listened to them the other day with the score and was impressed by their craftsmanship as much as by their sound.
There are at least four recordings of this work currently available, including those by Antony Goldstone, Colin Horsley, Margaret Fingerhut and Len Vorster. Yet this attention is certainly well justified – these Preludes are excellent examples of the ‘Gallic’ influenced style that permeated Berkeley’s works. Certainly Poulenc never seems to be far way – and of course the spirit of Chopin is pervasive.
The first prelude is ‘toccata like’ with ‘horns of elfin-land’ predominating the melodic pattern. This is intricate music that balances romanticism with a neo-classical perfection. No.2 is a brooding essay where, although the melody asserts itself it seems to be shrouded in the dark. We are back in the classical world with the third prelude which is full of a bubbling vitality: it is like a mountain stream. The fourth is a 'valse triste' which could almost, but not quite, be played in the piano bar of the Savoy Hotel. It is certainly not pastiche – but it is a beautifully crafted exercise in writing a waltz. Number 5 is described in the programme notes as a ‘whistling tune’ which suggests gaiety. Yet there is something darker in the middle section of this prelude. The last is in the form of a lullaby – and a ‘baby sings the blues’ one too. Perhaps this is the most memorable of the six?
These Preludes are always approachable without being musically patronising or condescending. The Six Preludes Op.23 was composed in 1945 for Colin Horsley who gave them their first performance.