Sacred choral works by Berkeley father and son at Hampstead 2023

LFCCM Singers perform sacred works by Lennox and Michael Berkeley and William Byrd Hampstead 2023

The first half of this well-attended concert followed a liturgical sequence, with organ music on either side of a Mass comprising movements from the two most often-sung settings by William Byrd (Mass for Four Voices) and Lennox Berkeley (Missa Brevis). By way of an Offertory, the choir sang Lennox’s classic setting of Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd, and Joshua Ryan played the Intermezzo from Michael’s Sonata for Organ. The same composer’s Latin motet, Amen dico vobis, served as the Communion motet, and, as final organ voluntary, the first half concluded with the ‘Toccata’ from Lennox’s Three Pieces for Organ (dedicated to Lennox’s middle son, Julian).

The second half opened with an interview in which Petroc Trelawny (as both music broadcaster and President of The Lennox Berkeley Society) talked to Michael Berkeley about his life and music. Of his father’s Catholicism, Michael said, ‘If it wasn’t exactly who he was, it was who he thought he should be … He found in religious music a kind of sublimation of the other passions in his life’. And turning to himself, Michael, once a chorister at Westminster Cathedral, admitted to being ‘more secular these days, though drawn to ritual’. 1

Then came the world premiere of Michael’s new choral work, Released by Love, setting words from W. H. Auden’s poem, A Christmas Oratorio, and a performance of Michael’s short violin solo, Notes on the Loss of a Friend, composed in memory of the arts administrator Nicholas Snowman (1944–2023), and played by Madeleine Mitchell. That was followed by Byrd’s two-part motet, Ne irascaris, Domine for five voices, and Michael Berkeley’s Christmas carol, This Endernight. And the concert ended with the great liturgical hymn of praise, the Te Deum laudamus (We praise thee, O God), in Michael’s setting, first performed in Lincoln Cathedral in 2015, on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta.

Petroc Trelawny and Michael Berkeley at the LFCCM Berkeley Celebration in Hampstead Parish Church on 22 May 2023 (Photograph Edesio Fernandes).
Petroc Trelawny and Michael Berkeley at the LFCCM Berkeley Celebration in Hampstead Parish Church on 22 May 2023 (Photograph Edesio Fernandes).

Geoffrey Webber writes: ‘The medieval chant for the Te Deum is notable for its solemnity rather than joyfulness, and it plays a strong part in the musical nature of Michael’s setting; indeed, the choir enters at the start with the melody of the chant itself. Unison writing remains an important vocal feature throughout, but this is dramatically set into relief both by some rich chordal writing, first heard at the ‘Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus’ section, and some exuberant organ writing including a ‘quasi cadenza’ towards the conclusion. A blazing final cadence of A major rounded off this evening of celebration.’ 2

After the concert there was a reception in the Vicarage for the artists and those who had attended, with hospitality provided by Elizabeth Berkeley.