Two of orchestral works featured here are both scored for the standard classical ensemble (184.108.40.206. 2.2. strings . timps). In addition, the Divertimento has an important part for one trombone. The other work, Mont Juic employs much bigger forces and would benefit from a larger string section.
The Mont Juic suite was collaboration between Berkeley and Britten and is made up of four very attractive movements based on Spanish folk-tunes. The first movement serves as a strident prelude which involves all players throughout. This leads to a lighter movement (allegro grazioso) full of interesting textures and solos. The third movement is subtitled Lament – Barcelona 1936 and is a powerful elegy that refers to the start of the Spanish Civil War. This movement features a beautiful saxophone solo reminiscent of the ‘Old Castle’ from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel, a close friend of Berkeley. The finale is an allegro molto of great character that brings the suite to a thrilling conclusion.
Both the Divertimento and the Sinfonietta are great pieces that are enjoyed by performers and audiences alike and they are useful additions to the repertoire of community orchestras. They are easy to programme as they both sit very well with the classical repertoire of composers such as Mozart and Haydn and can provide a palatable modern edge to concerts.
The Sinfonietta is in three movements, the first being rhythmic and tuneful. The second movement explores the sonority of the strings and has some beautifully crafted woodwind solos. The third movement which follows on without a break returns to the Mozartian style that is so typical of Berkeley’s lighter works. The Divertimento is similar in conception although it makes more demands on the performers and is more substantial being in four movements.
As well as being beautiful music, both these works are very useful to developing the musicianship of orchestral players. They are very satisfying to perform and yet present interesting challenges to the player.
The Serenade for Strings is equally enjoyable and remains one of Berkeley’s most popular pieces. It has four movements and again there is a large degree of classicism. The first movement really sparkles with a strong rhythmic drive. The second movement is Berkeley at his most expressive with haunting melodies and fascinating harmonies. This leads on to a scherzo that makes use of several string techniques including a very effective col legno passage. The work concludes with an unusual Lento movement that reaches a tremendous climax before gently concluding.
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