Clarion Call – Music for Septet and Octet: Michael Berkeley: Clarion Call and Gallop; Ferguson: Octet, Op 4; Casken: Blue Medusa; Charles Wood: Septet

Reviewed on Fri 07 Mar, 2014

Take my advice and make a bee-line to the captivatingly lyrical and consummately crafted 1933 Octet by Belfast-born Howard Ferguson (1908-1999) – think of it as a 20th-century companion to Schubert's masterpiece in the medium (both works share the same instrumental line up). It's framed here by Michael Berkeley's vivacious and witty Clarion Call and Gallop (2013) and John Casken's comparably sparky and appealing Blue Medusa (2007), a comprehensive reworking of an earlier (2000) piece for bassoon and piano. That just leaves the endearingly garrulous 1889 Septet by another figure from Northern Ireland, Charles Wood (1866-1926): a pupil of Stanford, he writes with no mean skill under the benign influence of his teacher's beloved Brahms, though an Irish flavour does emerge in the last two movements especially. On this, its debut release, the Berkeley Ensemble (whose members are drawn from the Southbank Sinfonia) gives warmly communicative and commendably polished readings, most truthfully recorded and balanced within an ideally intimate acoustic. An enterprising and enjoyable collection, well worth checking out.
–Andrew Achenbach