Berkeley: Stabat Mater; Mass for five voices; Judica me; Michael Berkeley: Touch Light

Reviewed on Fri 21 Oct, 2016

Performances are excellent throughout, sung with little vibrato but with phrases shaped through broad dynamics.

Lennox Berkeley’s Stabat Mater (1947) was commissioned by Peter Pears for an English Opera Group tour, hence the modest forces of six singers and 12 instrumentalists. The mood is plaintive and the style austere, but the harmonies are original and continually inventive. The short Mass (1964) for five voices was a Westminster Cathedral commission. Contrapuntal throughout, and based around Gregorian chant, the textures often reduce down to two or three voices. Judica me (1978) was written for the Three Choirs Festival. The mood warms, but this is still music of focussed expression and economy of means. Berkeley’s son Michael provides the final work, Touch Light (2005), for two singers and string quartet. The style is more Romantic, but spiced with piquant dissonances. Performances are excellent throughout, sung with little vibrato but with phrases shaped through broad dynamics. The Stabat Mater is the main attraction, a major and neglected choral work, here receiving its premiere recording.
–Gavin Dixon