Thursday, 4 May 2017

Lennox Berkeley: Divertimento in B flat major, Op. 18 (1943)

Michael Hermann’s invaluable A Discography of CDs and LPs (British Orchestral Music) published on MusicWeb International, lists two versions of Lennox Berkeley’s attractive Divertimento.  The first noted is an LP dating from 1968: Igor Buketoff and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing Bax’s Overture to a Picaresque Comedy and Richard Rodney Bennett’s rarely heard Symphony No. 1. (RCA VICTOR SB-6730).

The second version in Hermann’s listings is the one that I first discovered the work on: Lyrita SRCS.74. This LP was issued in 1975 and included the Serenade for strings, op.12, the Partita for chamber orchestra, op.66 and the Canzonetta (Sinfonia Concertante op.84). The London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by the composer.  It was re-released on CD (SRCD.226) in 2007. This additionally included the Berkeley/Britten collaboration ‘Mont Juic’ and the Symphony No. 3 in one movement, op. 74

I recently discovered an earlier version of Berkeley’s Divertimento. Alec Robertson writing in The Year’s Work in Music, 1948-49 noted several works recorded under the auspices of the British Council. These included: Alan Bush’s ‘Dialectic’ for string quartet, Michael Tippet’s String Quartet No.2 in F sharp, Arnold Bax’s The Garden of Fand, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens for chorus and orchestra and the present Divertimento in B flat.  This last work was performed by the London Chamber Orchestra was conducted by Anthony Bernard.
Anthony Bernard (1891-1963) was an English conductor, organist, pianist and composer. The London Chamber Orchestra was founded by Barnard in 1921 and is still going strong: Christopher Warren-Green is the present musical director.

Lennox Berkeley’s Divertimento for orchestra in B Flat Major op. 18 was commissioned by the BBC and is dedicated to his teacher, the redoubtable Nadia Boulanger. It is written in four movements: Prelude, Nocturne, Scherzo and Rondo. The work was premiered at the Bedford Corn Exchange on 1 October 1943 by the BBC Orchestra conducted by Clarence Raybould. The Divertimento has been well summed up by the music critic Alan Frank, who considers that Berkeley found ‘a light way of expressing serious…illuminated by a Latin clarity.’

Alec Robertson (op.cit.) writes about the Divertimento: 'Lennox Berkeley’s Divertimento in B flat is, at least in the outer two movements, an excellent answer to the objection that the contemporary composer leaves out so many things that people enjoy and includes so many that they do not. These two movements are gay, tuneful, and scored with the clarity Berkeley must surely have learnt in his studies with Nadia Boulanger.
What one expects from a work called Divertimento is less apparent in the episodic and rather melancholy slow movement, and in the somewhat mordant [astringent] scherzo, very interesting and effective though these are. Anthony Bernard and the London Chamber Orchestra give a most musical and brilliantly played account of the work, and the recording is a complete success in every respect.’  

Listeners are lucky that the YouTube channel ‘Shellackophile’ has uploaded this recording.  The details are: Recorded March 23, 1948, under the auspices of the British Council, in Decca's West Hampstead Studios, London, on 78-rpm matrices AR 12089 through AR 12092. Issued as English Decca K 1882 and 1883 during August 1948. Timings for each movement are given on the web page.  The good news is that the same YouTube Channel has Igor Buketoff’s version of Berkeley’s Divertimento as well. Perhaps more about that recording in another post.

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