Michael Berkeley: Winter Fragments – Catch Me If You Can; Clarinet Quintet; Winter Fragments; Sonnet for Orpheus; Seven

Reviewed on Fri 09 Nov, 2018

The Clarinet Quintet (1983) is spun from sinewy, twisting strands contrasting the playful impetuosity and dark-hued luminosity of John Slack’s clarinet to end in a moment of sublimely subdued beauty.

Released to mark his 70th birthday, this rewarding collection of chamber pieces by Michael Berkeley spans half a lifetime. Following their much-admired survey of chamber music by Berkeley père, Lennox, the namesake Berkeley Ensemble bring similar conviction and acute definition of execution to bear. There’s contrast aplenty – Catch Me If You Can (1994) a feisty, frenetic triptych, the gentle, self-echoing, harp-centred Seven (2007) pregnant with a pensiveness that collides late Mahler with Satie at his most subdued. The Clarinet Quintet (1983) is spun from sinewy, twisting strands contrasting the playful impetuosity and dark-hued luminosity of John Slack’s clarinet to end in a moment of sublimely subdued beauty. 2010’s Rilke-setting Sonnet for Orpheus and the seven-part song-cycle Winter Fragments (1996) – both benefiting from Fleur Barron’s ardent mezzo – showcase Berkeley’s sensitivity to text, economy of expression and ability to surprise with startling drama or an unexpected flourish. A fine birthday present to be widely shared.
–Michael Quinn