Stevens and Berkeley CD reviews


STEVENS: Behn Quartet / Timothée Botbol ★★★★

Robin Stevens' unusual career – schoolteacher, church musician, pastoral worker, cellist in a string quartet, and with a compositional life blighted by a seventeen-year debilitating illness – gives his music a strongly individual character. It never feels hidebound by his academic training but is eclectic, quirky and questing. There's a touch of Nielsen's Four Temperaments in his Second String Quartet subtitled Three Portraits, with its "Impulsive One", "God Seeker" and "Arguer" vividly characterized by the Behn Quartet, which features the CBSO's Kate Oswin on first violin. The String Quintet, with Timothée Botbol on second cello, is from 1981 and flirts in a Walton-like way with jazz and blues rhythms, with a very effective slow third movement. The String Quartet No.1 is of tougher material, densely wrought, often angry – written straight after his long illness – but its sheer emotional power means that the stylistic complexity never blunts its impact. Music well worth exploring.

Norman Stinchcombe


Sir Lennox Berkeley composed symphonies, operas and much choral, chamber and keyboard music – little of which we'll ever encounter live. He's been well served on disc though and this double CD set from Hoxa gathers together, in just under two hours, all of his music for solo piano. The forty-seven pieces span Berkeley' compositional career, from a March (1923) to a Mazurka (1982). All except a full scale Sonata (1945) are short, often lightweight works, so it's set for browsing and dipping into. Douglas Stevens is an excellent pianist and is an expert on Berkeley's music – the subject of his Ph.D. His handling of the four-movement Sonata is masterly, from the cheeky moto perpetuo scherzo to the pensive, introspective adagio. Stevens skilfully exploits the colour found in Three Impromptus, where the influence of Berkeley's teacher Ravel and friend Poulenc are clear. The final track, Polka (1934), is a sparkling send-off.

Norman Stinchcombe

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